I bought So This Is Permanence for my 22nd birthday, because I was the same age as Ian Curtis when he wrote most of it, and thus I thought I must’ve been able to understand what it was about (that’s rather far-fetched)
When I first read it (that is, deciphered Curtis’s scribbles, which is maybe even more difficult than deciphering what these scribbles mean) I noticed two things – Joy Division lyrics are mostly about war, and they have tons of cross-references.
So I kind of traced all the cross-references from So This Is Permanence (that is, including drafts and stuff), and I’ve found something that looks like a story.
Ian Curtis hasn’t written a novel, but I suppose that if he did it would’ve been about WW2, Nazis, betrayal and PTSD.
I’ll start at the end. Take Decades, for instance. “We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber, Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in”, “Weary inside, now our heart's lost forever, Can't replace the fear, or the thrill of the chase” and essentially everything else. As posttraumatic as it gets. Where have they been? On war, I guess. And if we take one step back and take a look at The Eternal – “Praise to the glory of loved ones now gone” - in the draft there was “heroes now gone”, but it has been crossed out. So it’s a funeral procession that takes place after the war. They’re basically praising The Young Men from Decades (and “Possessed by a fury that burns from inside” is, of course, a reference to “The sound and the fury”). In a draft for Atrocity Exhibition there was a line “freaks of nature never seem to have evolved, observers out of touch most of the time”, which is basically about the protagonist from The Eternal (who is “my age standing still, never to change” in the draft).
Ok, moving on. Something even more dramatic – Insight, for example, pretty much about one of The Young Men imprisoned. I don’t think “I watched them all as they fall” could mean anything other than war and “I keep my eyes on the door” means literally this. He’s looking at the cell door, because it is about to open, and I guess he’s about to be executed. That’s why “I’m not afraid anymore” – he has already seen enough atrocities, he’s already used to being constantly in danger, and besides all his hopes and dreams have gone to hell, - so we have the whole first stanza about depression and that life doesn’t make sense anyway. I guess it must be some kind of autosuggestion, because if you repeat that you’re not afraid anymore THAT many times, it might as well mean that you are, in fact, very much afraid.
Now another step back. We can actually try and find out how the narrator from Insight ended up in prison.
Shadowplay seems to be written around a fragment entitles Day of the Lords (not that one), and it went like this: “<…> and with cold steel odor on their bodies made a sign with their eyes <…> in a hotel by the river <…> and as they camу through the door, I felt no shame (crossed out) And in the room as they came to take you I stood still”. Room with a window in the corner, is that you?..
Anyway, it seem like there were two people, and one of them got arrested because of the other one (at least he did nothing to prevent it). And now that part – “I did everything, everything I wanted to, I let them use you for their own ends” – literally says that someone has been a means to an end.
A Means to an End is basically a monologue by the one who has been used like that. This and Shadowplay are kind of about the same two people, taken from their different perspectives. So what do we learn about them from A Means to an End? – they were friends, they fought together (from the draft – “two in hell, two set free, two alike, you and me”, which is even better), and eventually one betrayed the other, so he was arrested and probably executed (am I digging too deep, I wonder?).
From the draft: “you always said you cared until the gun was pointed over your shoulder, wept with everyone else until you were in a corner all alone”. So yeah, “I put my trust in you”…
In one of the drafts it goes like “and in the night when they took you nothing was said, and how I wished in the morning that it was me who was taken instead”, so at least maybe he’s regretting that he’s such a weakling.
Curtis wrote a lot about something like fighting for an ideology that failed (including the line “A legacy so far removed, one day will be improved”) – the whole Ice Age and The Leaders of Men and basically everything by Warsaw. And then there are drafts like “memories of a future everyone shared”, which is very sad, as this whole thing is given from the point of view of someone who didn’t quite realize what it was going to turn into (“the leaders of men, born out of your once good intentions” in a draft pretty much sums it up). There is an underlying theme of a dissident vs. ideology which is dominant in later Joy Division lyrics, like Colony and Autosuggestion, and it may as well be the reason behind the betrayal I wrote about earlier. Maybe one of the two couldn’t stand the atrocities anymore, so he defected or something.
Exercise 1 and Day of the Lords seem to be connected as well and feature one and the same character (and describe an almost identical scene, although through the eyes of another person) who may be someone in authority who is very much disappointed by how the ideology has failed (and who is likely to be on drugs), and I really like a theory someone posted on Genius that it ends with a suicide scene (by car fumes, apparently), which makes “no room for the weak” kind of ironic (and again PTSD is all over it).
Passover is pretty much about Jews during WW2, hence the title (and “mark on the door”), and it is again narrated by someone who can’t get over what he has seen – in the draft there was a line “I witnessed the deaths of a 1000 young men but couldn’t do nothing at all”. “Watch as they drop by the beach” is pretty much the same (it may be a reference to mass shootings on the beaches which did take place somewhere). And PTSD is almost everywhere – Candidate is probably the most powerful in depicting it, especially the draft with things like “broken and wounded, his eyes looked straight through” (which must be describing a thousand-yard stare). I’ve no idea why Ian Curtis would be so obsessed with post-war PTSD, but his writings describe it so perfectly it’s uncanny.
“Take my hand and I’ll show you what was and will be”, indeed.