A Manifesto of Gym Literature — Ka Bradley

Statement of Intent

Whenever Sunday papers, liberals with large bookshelves and eccentric sixth form English teachers want to express dissatisfaction with the application of the English language, they quote from ‘Politics and the English Language’. Dependent on their ideological affiliation with the essay (usually correlative with the strength of coffee that they drink and the length of time they allow to elapse between replacing shoes) they refer to the author as ‘George Orwell, who wrote 1984/Animal Farm’, ‘George Orwell’, ‘Orwell’ or ‘Eric Arthur Blair’. Political language, they will explain, or quote, or paraphrase, is vague, vapid and meaningless as a cloaking device. It is the cloth spread over the rotting corpse. Clear language is the antidote. Be honest in your language and resolute in your intentions. Use and do not abuse language. Language is the tool. Language is the weapon. &c.

We have read and understood this essay. We have taken away the fundamentals of the lesson: we should use language to better ourselves. We have elected to take this one step further, for the betterment of ourselves. We are concerned with building a stronger and more resilient society that will withstand the blows of false or flaccid language. We will do this by using language as our exercise room.

Our actual bodies are risked by the rhetoric of the powerful, and so we fight them in what we believe to be the best way: hardening the physical body against language. Our bodies are our capital and we are protecting them against bad returns. Loads of our radical friends seem to have started going to the gym. There’s a growing awareness that we may need to stay healthy for a long fight.

Cardio

Cardio exercises for language are concerned with raising the pulse and putting increasing pressure on the heart. This will result in a healthier heart; that is, a heart capable of withstanding pulse-raising, inflammatory or infuriating prose with equanimity. Rather than responding with passion, which localises the passionate and leaves the body exposed, it encourages a cool void and anonymity.

We recommend starting slowly and building up to more challenging exercise. Begin with the sentence

They are not going to text you back.

When this sentence can be borne, work up to harder sentences.

They are not going to text you back because right now they are with someone else.

Some pain is necessary for a perfected body.

They are not going to text you back because right now they are with someone else and they are at the point of climax as you hit ‘send’.

We solemnly repeated the mantra ‘no pain, no gain’, not without irony but also not without recognising the truth in these worn-out words. Sometimes the simplest, most classic phrases are the best.

They are not going to text you back because right now they are with someone else and they are at the point of climax as you hit ‘send’; you are the last thing on their mind as they arch their hips into someone else, their mouths bitten out and flushed with gasping.

Eventually it will be possible to withstand long distances.

They are not going to text you back because right now they are with someone else and they are at the point of climax as you hit ‘send’; you are the last thing on their mind as they arch their hips into someone else, their mouths bitten out and flushed with gasping, the face and body of someone else driving them to a febrile pitch of pleasure that they have no interest in ever seeking from you again. When they moan, it’s not your name that they’re moaning. You don’t want to know whose name it is.

(For those with weak hearts or those who have not attempted this sort of exercise before, we recommend starting with something smaller: They are not going to text you back because right now they are masturbating over someone else… &c.)

Weights

Weight exercises for language are concerned with strengthening both mind and muscle until it is possible to block a pointed sentence. Involuntary tightening and/or clenching is harnessed to create dynamic tension, building core strength. In weightlifting exercises, the mind bears on the physical reaction to a sentence, looping over and confirming it rather than attempting to subdue or deny it. Actual spoken harm will therefore be blocked at the point of comprehension.

Weights are done in lifts and lowerings. Begin with the sentence

I’m afraid we have some bad news.

When the body is tight enough and the mind coiled enough to block out the harmonics, move on to more weight.

I’m afraid we have some bad news.

It’s your father.

We have chosen the simplest example but there are many variations.

I’m afraid we have some bad news.

It’s your father.

The treatment was not as efficacious as we’d hoped. There have been complications.

It is a good idea to vary the weights as the body – and so the mind – will otherwise plateau.

I’m afraid we have some bad news.

It’s your father.

The treatment was not as efficacious as we’d hoped. There have been complications.

What do you mean, you weren’t aware he was having treatment?

Specialist weights can be written to target the areas that most require strengthening.

I’m afraid we have some bad news.

It’s your father.

The treatment was not as efficacious as we’d hoped. There have been complications.

What do you mean, you weren’t aware he was having treatment?

I’m sorry. You’re listed as his next of kin. Is there anyone else we can-? No? I’m so sorry. But it may be necessary to start making arrangements. He’s not in any state to make them himself. Yes. I’m sorry.

Flexibility

Flexibility exercises for language are concerned with promoting the ability to literally bend over backwards to make sense of nonsense. The mind will follow the body in its upending of absolutes. This will allow great gaps of logic and reason to be traversed with ease. It also promotes openness.

For example, begin with the sentence

Chill out.

In ordinary circumstances, such a sentence is repulsive in its dismissal of and condescension to the audience. Lean into a slight backbend and stare at the ceiling. When this is no longer challenging, move on to more advanced exercises.

Chill out. There’s no need to get emotional about it – I’m not getting emotional.

It is important to bend vertebrae by vertebrae and not to simply throw the neck back; this can damage the joints and also prepares the body for a counterjerk forwards, and a counterargument from a weakened stance.

Chill out. There’s no need to get emotional it – I’m not getting emotional. Why do you always start crying? It’s really passive-aggressive.

Some bodies and/or minds simply will not bend in certain ways. It is vital to discover limitations and work within them.

Chill out. There’s no need to get emotional about it – I’m not getting emotional. Why do you always start crying? It’s really passive-aggressive. It’s stuff like this that drives me to do that shit. You drive me fucking insane sometimes.

Speed

Speed exercises for language are concerned with heightening reactions. It is not necessary to be elegant, only fast. This is of the utmost use when the language used in opposition is brutal and brief, for example: “Get on the ground!” or “You’re under arrest!”

Begin and end with the sentence

Please        please       please      please     please    please   please  please pleasepleasepleaseplease


Ka Bradley is the assistant editor at Granta and Portobello Books. Her fiction has previously appeared in Queen Mob’s Tea House. @ka_bradley

Image: Gym Take One, © Brooke Novak, Creative Commons.