I sit down before a book: the jacket is entirely black, slightly glossy. I can hardly distinguish his name on the spine or the front of the jacket but it is possible to read the title, A Distillate of Heresy, written by Damian Murphy. The only image at the jacket, besides the tiny publishing house logo on the spine, is a small illustration of an angel sitting on Saturn; the predominant color, again, is black, now mixed to a pale golden, a necessary hue to build the volume illusion in the image. I pull out the jacket to contemplate the book in its nakedness: the cover, made of fabric, is also black, unadorned and without indication of any kind whatsoever. This dark predominance makes the reader's head go round: would be before a Grimoire, a clandestine book? A printed material that was, somehow forbidden or at least profane, demonic? The content would be near the blackness that dominates the external surface of the book? But here we come to the guard of the book: the black finally gives way to red shades in profusion, an abstract marbled effect, deeply significant because alludes to ancient books, lost in libraries and secondhand bookshops. So we are facing a more complex sense of purpose which only the outside design organization of a book: the blackness of the cover and dust jacket gives way to bright red tones of the guard in a kind of sequence, intense and dull colors in a contradictory shadow play, though potentially complementary in a ceremonial sense. For this book deals with ceremonies in so many aspects. But it is too early to discuss its contents.
Soon after the guard, a stylized, almost typographic image – the salamander (a creation by Sorina Vazelina) in the form of an "S, a minimalist figure that seems to reach, despite its simplicity, the formalization found in a letter or in some hieroglyphs. After all, this "S" guard the twisting sense of the fantastic animal (the salamander) and seems to communicate with the book's narratives, dealing with mistakes, coincidences and chance encounters that generate ceremonial and ritualistic effects. This calligraphic image seems to contrast with the typography of the title page and the elaborate subsequent image of a hand holding a heart on fire, cut in big closeup of a much larger and more complex pictorial composition; this is the Saint Augustine (1645-1650), a painting by the Baroque Philippe de Champaigne, reproduced above. In the image of Champaigne, the saint is in his study room, apparently enjoying a moment of enlightenment after intense intellectual work. The ecstatic eyes of the saint converge on the veritas shining like a small sun in the upper left corner as his hands holding a pen and a heart on fire by divine inspiration. Highlighting just the hand that holds the heart in flames, the Murphy's book graphic work displaces the intellectual saint imagery of its usual position; there is no veritas that illuminates everything, even the spatial location and the general background of the image, but only the bloody organ on fire, something spiritual and carnal, even cruel, but certainly ritualistic.
As the narratives, these brief images place in the space of the book paratexts seems to indicate that the conventional ways hide many shortcuts and unknown routes far from salvation and enlightenment for anyone that discovers these kind of paths. There are brief texts, epigraphs that prepare the reader for the actual stories. In one of these epigraphs, we read that the book is intended "For the heretics, the few, the outlaws, those who turned to face the Moon rather the Sun." There are no images in the rest of the book, but they would be unnecessary: the form was established by this presentation that works an organic link between text, images, layout, design aesthetics and essence of the narrative. As written by the researcher Évanghélia Stead in another context: "Pictures and prints, folds, covers and bindings, ornaments, graphics and typography, even the ink and the letters, the insects that go through the desert of the paper and were endowed with an intellectual, poetic and sensual sense." Damian Murphy, in this sense, is a unique narrator to handle unusual elements in the white desert of the paper, turning it into a dense forest of signs: his stories have a ritualistic sense, a game between objects (everyday or not) and chance, each of this parts playing essential functions. His protagonists are unique characters, whose life follows its own meaning in contrast to the more mundane aspect of existence, priests or shamans seeking ritualistic events in every little chance of escape. And the editions released by the publishers Zagava and Ex Occident Press, complete the complex sense of these narratives moving the fluidity of the reality electrified by symbolic and mythical meanings.
The first tale of the book, "The Book of Alabaster", is about a recluse who collects in his tower, unique objects like an old video game cartridge whose name is the title of the story. In the first sentence, a synthesis of the Murphy's aesthetic and narrative vision: "Stefan lived alone in the lookout tower." There is something timeless in this short sentence, whose center is the expression lookout tower, a type of military construction which generally refers to the primeval times, to the Middle Ages. This early disorientation of the reader possibly disappear in the flow of the plot, but never so as to realize a well-defined and clear universe and/or scenery. For Murphy narratives develop in an abstract plan, in which physical landmarks easily get lost and confused with psychic perception or mythic space in its roundness, infinity and ritualistic unfolding. The subsequent stories of A Distillate of Heresy develops in different directions this proposal of a physical universe which contains his double, difficult to define or perceive with the necessary clarity required by mimetic realism, culminating in "Permutations of the Citadel", a tale in which the fictional reality seems continually transmute around the characters. These are games and pursuits involving daily life opening new possibilities not only for the initiation rite, but also for sacrifice, with the view at the same time dark and desirable of endless territories under our cities, places where the evocation potential hellish seems relatively easy. The city is a theme dear to Murphy: a twilight and tentacular entity whose daytime and everyday appearance is just one of its many labyrinthine manifestations.
Murphy's subsequent productions – actually the novel "The Salamander Angel", published in Infra Noir collection, preceded the tales of A Distillate of Heresy in a few months – as the novels The Imperishable Sacraments and "The Hour of Minotaur" (penultimate narrative the collection The Gift of Kos'mos Cometh!) had been exploring new ways in the infinite possibilities of ritualistic and ludic combination in terms of narrative. One of these ways – very well developed in the latest Murphy's novel, The Exaltation of Minotaur – is precisely the philosophical dialogue that unfolds in intricate structured combinations for the stories turning around symbolic elements that allow the first narrative chapters, "An Incident in the House of Destiny" to use titles that allude to archetypal forms: the bureaucrat, the anarchist, the vision, catastrophe. Even the division between different literary genre looks inappropriate in the narratives of The Exaltation of Minotaur, complex forms between the short story and the novel intertwine in obsessive detail, cyclical aspects endow the characters ritualized activities of meaning layers. Murphy, accordingly, performs multiple evocations every narrative; perhaps some of the evoked names can be recognized by the reader: Alain Robbe-Grillet and J. K. Huysmans, somehow. But this is only the surface: the nuances and consequences of Murphy's stories are situated in an opaque, indefinable and dangerous region we usually call imagination, a place that is not always easily accessible.
Some of the photos below (the last three, from the books The Imperishable Sacraments and The Exaltation of Minotaur, respectively) were kindly provided by Dan Ghetu.