‘A word I like at the moment is “calenture”’, announced Will Self in a 2004 Observer Magazine interview. williamgilbert.com salutes him, and pays tribute to the bands, poets and visionaries listed below who have kept the calenture alive.
An Australian band whose 1987 album was titled Calenture. (For more details of this release see their website) The title track itself is an instrumental, but calenture imagery appears in the lyrics of ‘Holy Water’, by David McComb:
In a summer dress in the greenhouse
Where she overslept dreaming of an ocean
Like a meadow
But wet, wet with holy water.
Another Australian band - Calenture is track 15 from their 2004 album david intolerant and the seventeen screaming kids released by Squeamish Recordings. The track is available from their bandcamp website. It sounds like an out-take from Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica sessions. The lyrics, by Grant Hunter, are hard to make out, but worth catching.
Tropical fever sets in
The greenest hills you ever saw
Splashing and crashing against the ship
as we set our course
overcome by longing for land
we drown in our stupidity
It’s a refreshingly anti-romantic point of view. There is after all, something inherently stupid about the idealisation of delirium and disease; it's the collective delusion of the Ship of Fools.
There is (was?) also a Finnish band called Calenture, who released a self-titled album in 1995. When asked by williamgilbert.com in 2005 why they chose this name, they replied: ‘we just thought that Calenture sounds and looks cool and it fits well for a hard rock/heavy metal band. The description and synonyms for the name are very interesting, especially the description which refers to the delirium. Some synonyms, we've discovered, refer to passion and things like that, which we also find very suitable for our purposes. We haven't directly exploited the ambiguous meaning of the word in our lyrics (yet) or elsewhere. Nevertheless, using Calenture someday in lyrics or album cover might be a great idea but it requires a good inspiration on lyrics, skills and imagination on artwork’.
Haruki Murakami’s novel South of the Border, West of the Sun contains a description of a condition known as hysteria siberiana, which evokes the calenture experience. I am not sure whether Murakami has invented this – a Google search of the term only brings up references to the passage in his novel. Like the calenture, hysteria siberiana rises from the monotony and deprivation of a flat and endless landscape that the mind can't cope with. It is used as a metaphor for a flat and endless life of meaningless routine. The journey to the west of the sun is a bleak image on the face of it, but tinged with Murakami’s romanticism, it holds out a possibility of ‘something’— of rebirth and renewal?
Ashley Capps, Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields
Rejoicing they leapt overboard,
and so were lost forever,
even though they thought it was real, though
they thought they were going home
Dismissing the romantic consolation of Ophelia's watery suicide, Ashley Capps takes us through a junkie's death in a bathtub, and then to the way lemmings, Gadarene swine, and calentured sailors throw themselves into the sea. Self-annihilation through seeking something bright at the end of the tunnel. Or, as she writes in 'All Night City Train', another poem from the book:
Nothing was waiting | to be changed into something with wings.