It’s with great pleasure that I welcome the brilliant Dan Holloway here. Dan’s an author, journalist, poet, and all round good egg. His latest book, No Exit (published by Pankhearst Singles on May 5th), sounds rather good. Here’s the man himself to talk about it…
A room with no windows
It’s something we all fantasise about, alone at night in an empty bedroom as the clock ticks relentlessly towards another dawn and the misery it brings.
A room with no windows. No consequences.
And yet something that surprised me when I ran a regular interview column that contained the question “Which would you rather – dinner with the person you most admire or 5 minutes alone in a room with no windows with a person of your choice” was that pretty much everyone opted for the former.
It made me wonder what was going on. Are we really that benevolent and forgiving a society? Are we afraid of being found out by those we want to like us? Or are we afraid of going to a part of ourselves we would rather keep in that unlit part of the night?
Those are essentially the questions I set out to explore in No Exit, at the centre of which is just such a room. A room where torture and killing can take place without consequence at the hands of the most normal members of society. I wanted to avoid the Dexter-style easy moral compass. The victims in No Exit don’t have to be (though one of them is) mass murderers or paedophiles. They can be the people who make yours and my lives miserable every day. People who also have a good side. People who are fathers and mothers and lovers and even philanthropists. But who are also the ones who make the vulnerable reach for the razorblade.
There are three complicating factors in this scenario that I don’t want to begin to answer, but which I am hoping to use to ask provocative, uncomfortable questions. Questions I want readers to ask themselves in the name of honesty.
The first has to do with subjectivity. It’s the bullet the likes of Dexter always seek to dodge in the name of moral simplicity. I want this person dead. Those they love may want them alive, may even be willing to die for them. What right do I possibly have to claim that my position is more important than theirs? But also, what right do they have to claim theirs takes more priority over mine? Do we really believe in the sanctity of life in a godless world? Really? Or is it that we believe in the sanctity of the wishes of those who do not make us uncomfortable, those at the centre of the moral bell curve? And if so, what kind of implied violence does that do to those who outlie?
The second centres on the issue of blame. As a society we are getting used to the idea that in order for something to be condemned and stopped, the perpetrator does not have to have intended harm. This was a cornerstone of the MacPherson report following the Met’s mishandling of the Stephen Lawrence investigation – prejudice is in the eye of the person against whom it happens, not in the intention of the perpetrator. As our thinking about sexism, racism, sexuality and privilege in general gets more nuanced, it is something that is becoming more widely accepted – “I didn’t mean…” is neither a defence nor a vouchsafer of immunity from criticism. “The fact is you did…” has become the marker. And the debate is moving online, to take in those who troll for giggles and a relief for boredom rather than malice against a person. What is the truly appropriate way to treat these people?
Finally, the most difficult question of all, one which has its roots for me back in studying the doctrine of utilitarianism, the notion that we should promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Is this a principle that, as well as promoting the things that makes life good, can seek the eradication of those things, those people, that cause misery?
I am not proposing answers. And I’m certainly not proposing readers reach their own conclusions and set out on a vigilante spree (though, of course, my intention may be irrelevant…). What I am wanting to do is for readers to ask the question. I want people to feel deeply uncomfortable about they way in which the scenarios in the story are presented and to ask themselves why they feel that discomfort. I want to start a debate that’s not cut off at the root with a quick “you can’t go there.”
Because we do go there, in the pre-dawn darkness. And maybe it would be healthier for society as a whole if we were allowed to go there in the light.
No Exit is published by Pankhearst Singles on May 5th.