Necroconceptuality in Gary Shipley’s Warewolff!

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Gary Shipley’s work is often compared to Ballard for its single-minded estrangement of sense. Yet it refuses even more, the satisfactions of setting and psychology. It is sometimes marketed as ‘concept horror’ – which is accurate insofar as it is the concept that does most of the hurting here – remarked, disjointed, its grammatical lifelines sliced and diced. In a sense it is one of the purest expressions of a formal disconnection of thought from thought.

With a nod to the conventions of earlier horror, Shipley’s 2017 novel Warewolff! has a first person prologue redolent of Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. Its narrator claims that what we are about to read are media transcripts documenting an alien influence that can only be understood through its deformation of our bodies and speech. Ten thematic sections follow: buildings, eyes, families, sky, air, holes, rooms, distortion, screens, ghosts.

These feature terse vignettes like ‘Russian Dog Fail’ (57) and longer sequences of finely-tuned incoherence. Their piquant titles include ‘Nice Gumbo’ (112), ‘Reptile Christ’ (70) or ‘Instagramming Lana Del Rey’s Brain’ (40).

‘Nice Gumbo’ nicely exhibits Shipley’s technique, in which bodily decomposition is always the instrument or harbinger of grammatical violence.

It begins:

We were stale the whole day and miniature in our cut-off legs. This was us christened as invalids.

Implied mutilation – leg severing – disavowed by two incongruous adjectives: ‘stale’ and ‘miniature’. Nothing has happened. Just a christening, it seems; or a change of aspect:

This was us flushing cramps with a bone saw. Look at us, we’re the first of the year.

Deliberate category errors upheap the indeterminacy: cramps are not flushable if we understand the verb properly. But can we? If it is improper, what of the bone saw’s inscrutable efficacy?

Over the bed, beside the crucifix, Kafka’s prostate sealed in a freezer bag. The last of Brod’s salvage so the legend goes. It looks like the Eraserhead baby shrunk in an oven. We love like mad from opposite corners of the room. K is that sweet gangrene in our celibacy in glass.

The reference to Kafka’s unfaithful literary executor and the vivid comparison with the mutant offspring in David Lynch’s debut movie is a sensory shot; but it is offset by the abstraction of the last sentence where the logic of inclusion falters. If K is ‘sweet gangrene’ what is it to be ‘in’ celibacy. What is it for ‘sweet gangrene’, in turn, to be in glass? Can K merit a prostate?

Is inclusion, here, transitive? If K is in our celibacy –  and celibacy is in glass – is K too in glass?

One recalls Badiou’s claim that the notions of set and set inclusion cannot be explicitly defined outside of set-theoretical axioms. [1] For example, those in ZF excluding self-membership. There can be an implicit mastery of set without a concept of set.

But this is not possible here. Like Bellmer’s anagrammatic doll, Warewolff! has no axioms or rules beyond the hazards of dispersal. It is its own entirely misleading portrait.[2] It has no people or worlds; only disjointed clones, plucky carcasses and scripts we mistook as our lives.

Yet despite this ontological poverty, we can read Warewolff!. Something happens, even if we do not understand what. Its dispersal is the horror of biomorphism: a condition somewhat akin to life that, like Shipley’s alien, ‘discloses its arrangements’ through our language centers. And this is the condition of unbinding: we are spoken by something; we pass into something without the assurance that our hunger is our own.


Badiou, A. 2006. Being and Event. Oliver Feltham (tr). London: Continuum.

Shipley, Gary J. 2017. Warewolff. London: Hexus Press

[1] ‘It is of the very essence of set theory to only possess an implicit mastery of its “objects” (multiplicities, sets): these multiplicities are deployed in an axiom-system in which the property ‘to be a set’ does not figure’ (Badiou 2006, 43)

[2] In the prologue Shipley’s narrator writes that the alien force he is soliciting learned to talk by ‘shaping the stories of its victims and, in so doing, created ‘a portrait of itself – of itself made up with other things’ (9).

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