The Quiddity of Delusion

The Quiddity of Delusion

by M.J. Nicholls


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Fiction. In an obsessive monologue vaguely after the manner of Thomas Bernhard, a socially inept writer, in an attempt to deflate or defeat the humiliation of seeking to impress the smooth-talking, self-important sorts of people he loathes but envies, tries to get to the bottom of an embarrassing incident from his childhood, with entertaining but refreshingly anti-climactic non- results. In THE QUIDDITY OF DELUSION, both barrels of Nicholls' word-gun are, as always, loaded, and the ego gets it hard in the nads.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781944697259
Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press
Publication date: 06/01/2017
Pages: 50
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 4.30(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

M.J. Nicholls is the author of THE QUIDDITY OF DELUSION, THE HOUSE OF WRITERS, and A Postmodern Belch, and co- editor at Verbivoracious Press. He lives in Glasgow.

Read an Excerpt

The Quiddity of Delusion

By M.J. Nicholls

Sagging Meniscus Press

Copyright © 2017 M.J. Nicholls
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-944697-25-9


The precise and verifiable facts of this childhood incident failed to present themselves to me at the exact moment perfect recall would have benefited me socially. I was wilting around a table of wits and struggling to invent anecdotes that might have strengthened my standing as an "interesting" person — the first two improvised stories concerned public faux pas such as blowing a bag of custard powder in a supermarket and the hilarious-in-retrospect humiliation that ensued (complete with tittering girls and disapproving scowls from pensioners), and not realising my headphones had been disconnected in the national library so N.W. A.'s Straight Outta Compton broadcast to a roomful of embarrassed eggheads. These lies bordered on the unbelievable, and I read doubt in the smiling but unlaughing faces around me — authentic stories received wine-tickled titters and braying knee-slaps, and my success that evening hung on finding an appropriate moment to insert a real anecdote, otherwise I was doomed to dangle on the precipice of potential friendship and linger in my lies until the invites dried up and another door to social integration closed with a firm and committed slam. Usually, untrue anecdotes were constructed from fragments of truth and united into pleasing narrative form (as in arranging an autobiographical fiction) and the inherent deception in this act never caused me concern. I had blown a bag of Cup-a-Soup due to impatient ripping some time before, and the powder landed on my sweater and trousers (not my hair and face as in the anecdote), and would have caused embarrassment if another person had been around to witness the incident. By changing the Cup-a-Soup to custard I had added humour, evaded accusations of being a cheap luncher, and by setting the incident in a supermarket I had created a bona fide anecdote (imagine the looks I would have received had I told them about the time I blew a bag of Cup-a-Soup over my sweater and trousers while alone in the flat with no one to witness the hilarity, and the ensuing nuisance at having to dust off the powder and mop up the spilt specks with a damp dishcloth). There was truth in the N.W. A. mishap — I had been listening to music in a library (not the national one) and unplugged the headphones in error, although the volume was not so loud as to cause heads to turn and I was able to pause the track before embarrassment set in. The music was not hardcore rap but alternative rock (since the incident dates back to my late teens, the likely suspects are Radiohead, Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground, or Joy Division — credible fare for a student). Whether or not these inventions were passable as presentations of the real me (I was capable of such mishaps), and whether or not the facts revealed (having to admit I shopped for powdered custard might have been riskier than admitting a fondness for rap) presented a truthful picture of me, this group demanded the natural veracity found in the anecdotes of the sort of loquacious outgoing people to whom a dozen amusing things happen per day. I had to lie. Telling the truth in social situations has never been and will never be an option for me because I lead the life of a writer and bookworm and cherish ritual and isolation like someone in training for a murder sentence. So my failure that evening to recall the precise circumstances of this childhood incident (that will function as the kernel of this story) meant I was forced into an heroic improvisation that no one around the table bought as genuine. I had blown my cover by exaggerating one detail too many, to the point one wit remarked: "That can't be true!" I wanted to explain how irrelevant the difference is between a well-told fictional anecdote and a mediocre-but-true anecdote, how the fictional anecdote holds more appeal since it answers to nothing but the imagination and, if presented within the bounds of the believable, pleases its hearers as much as it pleases the teller (who absorbs the pleasure from his hearers). I wanted to explain that the only reason the group preferred true anecdotes to fictional ones is because interesting things happened to them and part of their social dynamic was to outdo one another with wit and experience, and that their anecdotal style had evolved so that the small untruths each teller inserted into their tales to make them appear seamless were undetectable, and how the whole system was a social confidence trick and discredited the importance of fiction to enhance and replenish everyday experience, which always fell short of the imagination wherein everything is permitted (if not socially). The facts are this. As a child I was taken with my mother, father, and sister to a small strip of beach in a coastal Scottish town called Burntisland (all one word so sometimes referred to as Burntis Land) in Fife, where someone kicked a football that displaced my ice-cream cone and hit me in the crotch. I was around nine years old. To pepper the anecdote, I lied about who kicked the ball (blaming a village meanie), that my swimming trunks slipped down as I clutched the afflicted area, and that five or six girls laughed outright at my pain including my sister (which was true — she laughed at all physical suffering I underwent as a child). Since I was willing to make light of this vulnerable and scarring moment in my life, the table guests laughed and offered sympathetic ohs, and the anecdote passed without damaging my chance to return to the group and establish myself as a regular, provided I cultivated an anecdotal style that fit into their accepted mode. When I returned home that evening I spent several hours analysing my performance, cursing my hesitant delivery, my failure to hit certain notes for maximum comedic effect. I began to wonder about the anecdote I had attempted to make authentic. What had happened that day, exactly? I had always known one fact of the incident to be 100% true — a ball of some sort collided with my crotch and I experienced some of the most excruciating pain I was to encounter until a basketball collided with my crotch in secondary school (an anecdote that can't be told due to the unfounded accusation that the thrower — a ginger tomboy — was doing so out of spite, and the distinct possibility she remembers me, and the less plausible one that she might ever read this story and recognise a slanderous portrait of herself ), and that my sister was in hysterics. How much detail hid in my memory? What effect had this football in the crotch had on my psychological development, and more importantly, if I was unable to recall the particulars of that pivotal afternoon(?), how could I be expected to construct a convincing autobiographical narrative about the occurrence, let alone convince the group with the telling of any memorable childhood anecdote? The group was unlikely to embrace me to their bosoms or any other desirable erogenous zones. I had made the mistake, in a fit of social desperation, when the façade of my antisocial loner's lifestyle collapsed without prior warning and I was up nights panicking about the decades passing without cementing lifelong friendships, of pouncing on the first social opportunity that came along on the internet — a series of dining events with strangers in affordable Bridgeloch restaurants — and spent weeks polishing stories to make me appear mercurial and able to switch between intense and incisive philosophical commentary, Wildean witticisms with relevance to the modern world, and humble-honest reflections on my life. Unfortunately, no opportunities to use these polished stories came up in the context of the conversations, and I had to fall back on improvised anecdotes and comment that showed up my ignorance and indifference to current events or anything outside my own literary efforts and explorations. The restaurant was set up so that three groups of five had to sit squeezed into tables (the more expensive the restaurant the smaller the tables, legroom, and portions), and I was forced to sit beside four professionals who read no books — men who, if forced into choosing a book, would have found Dan Brown, Stieg Larrson, Ian Rankin, or George RRR Martin — men who equate popularity with artistic superiority, who might in all good faith believe Dan Brown to be at the top of his profession: a fact that inspired nothing but instantaneous loathing inside me before a word had been exchanged. The first sociable eater was Greg: the sort of ever-friendly everyman who has no problem straddling lowbrow or highbrow culture — content to sit in a panto shouting inane catchphrases or hum along to a Bartók violin sonata. The second eater was Paul who was too vague to cause irritation and so deserves no more than a mention in this sentence. The third was Frank (the names have been changed to prevent libel — that is, assuming you believe the events in this narrative are true: I promise to have manufactured nothing in this set-up section that I don't admit to having manufactured — but that relies on your trust too, which is something I can't take for granted since this story thrives on sneakiness and a perpetual discourse as to what is fictional and real and whether that matters or anyone cares if it matters) and had a slight double chin disguised by a beard. His attempt to hide the oval nature of his face with facial hair only served to emphasise its comical eggishness, and I might have felt empathic towards him if he didn't wear his beard with such confidence — never once scratching or tugging at the brown prickles in revealing tics of doubt but knocking back his beer and pasta as though the beard was unpresent and had been accepted by everyone as a stylish quirk of his appearance, never once checking for crumbs caught in the hairs or drying the dampness from the moisture on his beer glass, but wearing the damn thing with insouciance, as though it never even occurred to him that someone might accuse him of growing the beard to cover up his pudgy little face, as though he had never looked in the mirror and tugged at the flap of fat under his face and felt inadequate, as though he had the chutzpah to walk through life thinking no one would mind about his chin fat and people might even consider the beard to enhance an appearance that he might even in his vain lonesome have looked at and considered sexy and attractive — so I had no chance of respecting him. He was also an odd size and claimed to be a geologist, a fact I found peculiar as I couldn't imagine him straddling a cliff and inspecting rocks, not with that beard and stature. The final diner was Jeremy, who I hated the most. Jeremy was the shining wit (to my whining shit). Someone who worked in a newspaper office and had too many friends already, and saw no harm in butting in to my small attempt to engage with other human beings despite the obstacle I placed in my own way of disliking most people on principle for refusing to read experimental fiction and despise socialising. Jeremy thrived on social banter and the buzz at being thought hilarious (and knowing — believing with deep conviction — that he was hilarious) and made pointless attempts to draw the less hilarious or inhibited social losers into his Jeremiac web by asking token questions as a means to prompt himself into the preplanned anecdote lingering on his tongue the minute the social loser completed his mumbling (to which Jeremy nodded along and ignored, using the downtime to mentally refine the timbre of the setup before the thigh-splitting side-tearing punchline desperate to zing from his lips). The selfishness of this social greed infuriated me. In a world where dynamic and attractive people (Jeremy was balding and no Clooney, fortunately) have first dibs on the friends and take far more than their fair share (and once these people have become "friends," their desperation to cling to the prestige of knowing a Jeremy closes them up to friendships with lesser mortals), there should be a law restricting unstoppable schmoozers like this from triumphing in an arena where novices flounder and are made to feel as though they should be grateful when a Jeremy deigns to speak at them about his merry-go-round life of endless antics that shape themselves into perfect anecdotes that need no rehearsing before the mirror and fizz off the tongue into the amused air and bring pleasure and admiration to all except the people like me who despise Jeremies and who will never say so for fear of making an enemy among someone who could crush his social future with a wittily timed epigram tossed into the ears of all nearby suggestibles. After that evening's failure, I wondered if I could ever make the beach anecdote authentic — that is to say, completely true to the best of my knowledge, and verified by those who were present during the incident, and left to stand without having to alter the funniest details to make them properly funny, and told in such a way as to present a this-is-the-real-me portrait of myself, so that the hearers could embrace the-real-me and become closer to me as a friend since I allowed myself to be myself without the layers of fabrication and evasion (despite these layers being closer to the-real-me than the me that emerges when it pulls off a conventional anecdote told in a conventional way using conventional narrative). To achieve this, and understand the ramifications of that afternoon on the beach as to how I developed as a person, I would have to delve into my memory and dredge up as many facts as possible. The difficulty in doing this lies in memory's tendency to add untruths to the mix from other snatches of memory, similar incidents witnessed in life or in popular culture, and the fiction-writer's tendency to fabricate to the point he forgets what details are fabrications and what is the official version as verifiable by witnesses. I would need to consult my parents and sister, and return to the scene of the incident to see if being present stirred up anything. Perhaps doing so was futile — I couldn't reuse the anecdote with the diners, and even if I achieved a perfect story free from lies, no one would appreciate the effort I had put in to eliminating the fictional, and even if respect for my storytelling abilities doubled (which it wouldn't, of course, as people are too busy refining their own perfect stories and hoping to be accepted so that everyone ends up not accepting the others and waiting to be accepted themselves, and no one knows what to "accept" someone in this situation means — I certainly don't, and have no real clue what I am talking about here either), there was still no guarantee of a social victory. What concerned me more was not being able to write narrative fiction direct from experience and engage the reader on an emotional level and not have to dump page after page of unfocused ramblings (as entertaining — or painful — as some of them are) on the reader in an attempt to contrive the authentic (as defined above). Or that all narrative fiction taken from the author's experience, or even straight autobiography, I had ever read was a lie, and that the only sensible way to poke near the authentic was to stop and question each detail as it appeared and to verify the facts with footnotes (containing witness accounts that could be corroborated or links to places where people could check each assertion by the author as to his past was true), or to create some kind of classification for works of autobiography, narrative nonfiction, or fiction drawn from experience that were not authenticated and so untrustworthy, or to simply drop the label of non-fiction entirely, and merge it with fiction and accept that recreating reality on the page is impossible and authentic experience does not transfer to non-fiction due to its subtle deceptions and lack of narrative oomph once infused with fictitious lies (whether subconscious insertions or direct insertions). Even the supposedly truthful parts of this narrative lack verification — since the Cup-a-Soup burst when no one was around to witness the incident there is no way this can be labelled autobiography, and since I sold my N.W.A. CD (a fact that can be proved by checking my eBay sales history, however, I have forgotten the log-in), the only evidence I once listened to this rap group rests on a hard drive sitting on my mantelpiece, where the music of over three hundred CDs resides in MP3 form, but even then — where is the evidence I ever listened to this CD? All that can be proven is that I owned and ripped this CD, and testing me on my familiarity with the lyrics is also useless, since I could have listened to the songs on the internet at another time (for which there is no evidence either). Even composing a fictional narrative leaves too much room for momentum-killing inquiries. And these can, of course, be expanded to encompass philosophical dimensions, such as how do your characters (who will have to be aware they are characters simulating "real" people), know they are who the narrator says they are, how do they know they are carbon-based lifeforms alive on the planet Earth, and even if this knowledge is made clear to them through verified scientific facts, why should they choose to be the characters the narrator says they are, or even if they are happy to pretend to be "real" people, why as "real" people should they conform to behavioural traits that are suppressing their freedom or making their lives complicated (for the sake of making the novel intriguing?).


Excerpted from The Quiddity of Delusion by M.J. Nicholls. Copyright © 2017 M.J. Nicholls. Excerpted by permission of Sagging Meniscus Press.
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