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[Essay] Irvine Welsh | Snuff
Irvine Welsh’s ‘Snuff’, from ‘The Acid House’

What if we experienced the world as Ian Smith? A man who is incapable of feeling pleasure, not as desire, but as obligation? A person who, will take sick days off work at the office where he is a non-entity to facilitate his addiction to Halliwell’s Film Guide/wank-a-thon over vague memories of his ex-wife, yet will not face social gatherings, even his own brother telling him their mother has died. Only then, will he venture into work.

His ex registers as a blip in his obliged pleasures, as the only woman who could bring him to orgasm, aside from his memories of her and the odd erotic scenes in the movies he watches back to back for days on end in order to rate and review existing and ‘too late for the annual publication’ of Haliwells.

The only gravitation towards positivity is that his ex no longer resists the possibility of installing a sky receiver, which now gives him access to more and more movies to get through Halliwells guide, which, a work colleague was vaguely aware of this ‘hobby’ and posed a terrifying existential question to him about:

What happens when you have completed the book and watched everything?

The only other social interaction he has, is with a prostitute, who he reviews like a movie upon greeting - ‘the cigarette is consuming her, she is the depleting product’, as he acknowledges how real life lacks the sentimentality of the Hollywood screen.

The prostitute has the same emotional absence as Ian does - but she loses control when he experiences an increased erection accompanied by symmetrical numbness, which forces her to respond accordingly, repressing pleasure to maintain a facade of professionalism - something she despises him for.

Alone again, he brings out his new camera which he sets up on top of the TV, he has finished his ratings and reviews in Halliwells’ guide and puts in a video tape of a man climbing a ladder, looking at Ian in fear and he then hangs himself - at which point a supernatural event takes place where Ian is hung until dead with the camera filming him - the same dead gaze he had from himself is now making his reality of numbness viewable on the screen, right up until the tape is full without a title for the end, yet it is.

Ian cannot be driven by pleasure as he seems to be incapable of experiencing it and as he never desires, only obliges or avoids whenever an event occurs which may interrupt his ‘viewing-pleasure’, which is not the same as ‘having-pleasure’, we are left with the possibility that pain is not the absence of pleasure, but that pain is all that abstains the end – in short, pain is what Ian finally realises as his salvation, but he cannot even experience it, but view it as someone else on the screen, he fails to die, to experience his own death, he can only be viewing-death from the dead gaze of the camera, he is not here, but over there, which is what the reader perceives as the disjunctive moment, where Ian sees the death of an apparent other on the screen before him, but like Narcissus, he cannot comprehend that the image on the screen is himself committing suicide. To Ian, a movie has a predictable sequence which is dislocated from his normal sense of time, the story marks this as the case when it is noted that there are no aspects of his life that he does not have control over and that days and nights are not marked by separate events, it is one continuous and predictable closed system for Ian. The consequence is that Ian never experiences out of desire, he can only view through obligation, through duty of what will definitely happen beyond his control on the screen.

The prostitute is like Echo in the Narcissus myth, she does not supply or demand anything outside of what Ian expects is obliged of him and not what he desires – he has sex because he must, not because he wants to, which is equally reciprocated by the prostitute. When he violates her sense of control through apathy and brings her to orgasm, she is very much akin to the cursed Echo, who then disappears like his ex, for the same reasons his ex left him – she found his genitals to be sufficiently large and capable of bringing pleasure to her, but this is not enough, the rest of him was nothing but lack and apathy. Like the cigarette, his still erect phallus ‘consumed’ the self-worth of the prostitute and it is from this moment on that Ian, much like Narcissus, is lost in an image of himself, but not out of pleasure, excitement and love, but out of lack and a sense of him despising himself, at which point, lost in his self-image on the screen, much like in the water Narcissus lost himself in and drowned, Ian was consumed as a depleting product too.

He suffers in the sense that suffering is inaccessible to him, his subjectivity is produced by a dissimulated lens of which he has no possible access to, unlike Narcissus, whose self-image is desired to be replicated and spread, dispersed, Ian Smith has no desire and can only narrate towards the end as the control he has does not determine his appointment with the executioner – the camera lens – the camera and screen are narcissistic and Ian is but an echo, a thought of the movies that consume his every action.

On the surface, we could say he has nothing to live for and will fully commits suicide and that Welsh implies a supernatural event to be much like how Kafka may be disguising a mentally ill person as a giant insect; who is subjected to the stigmatic gaze of society – in which case, Ian is expected to be nothing more than ‘video kid’ – which is what his colleagues refer to him as – a man who forces himself to feel pain, but the video he watches shuts him down, like a remote control. He contemplates what ‘no news’ is, events that don’t seem to matter, where no change occurs, empty spaces that leave no significant marks at the time of taking place. As the piss rolls down his leg and the recording camera dispassionately records his non-event of a death, as Ian has no significant connections with others, we are alerted to Welsh pointing out that the camera is a mechanism, not a machine, a mechanical operation simply ticks over and goes nowhere, whereas a machine is capable of interaction and creation beyond itself with another.

The camera shuts down and so does Ian, no sign of the end, but it is the end. He is no more, but was ever something in the first place?
Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don't forget.

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