The Lineage of a Sneeze

Written by  //  December 7, 2010  //  Music, The Conservatory  //  3 Comments

Backlog | The Donnybrook Writing Academy

The idea of contagion cannot be better visualized than someone sneezing into the face of another person. A sneeze seems to be no more than a simple, sinister transmittal of germs – a virus hacking our bodies and momentarily taking control of our motor cortex so that it may manipulate a series of muscles and organs into executing a hiccuping, dispersing expulsion. Sneezes package pathogens in projectile form – as huge gobs of snot and mucus – and as particulate matter that floats gently through the air for extended periods of time, wafting to and fro before finally finding purchase in our arm hairs or in our eyelashes, where it will wait (infinitesimally small, these beads of sickness) to be rubbed into some mucus membrane or another. The human sneeze is the most common terrorist act.

This is the spread of illness and malaise visualized. We can easily imagine the resultant chain of contagion, flu viruses taking different shapes and mutating as they make their way through populations of schoolchildren or the sad sacks tethered to chains of cubicles. The sneeze becomes its own legacy during flu season, the coughing and the wheezing multitudes marked with the stigma of the damned.

Max Ernst called the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse “mental contagion”, and this week, Backlog is presenting the results of a musical virus that was released among the writers of Donnybrook Manor.

For those of you who need a primer, Exquisite Corpse is a parlor game that has its roots in the surrealist movement, wrought in almost any media you can think of, in which the participants collaborate in the creation of a poem for example, but with only a limited knowledge of what has been created before their turn. The idea of the game is to take the act of creation from the realm of the individual and into the collective.

For poetry, one participant would write a line on a piece of paper and hand it to the next participant. The second participant would add a line and fold the paper so that the line written by the first participant would not be visible to the third participant. The poem would be passed to each successive participant and they would only be able to see the last line that was written. In this manner, the participants individually put in to something that would be borne of their collective input. Here’s an example of an exquisite corpse created by a group of videographers known as the Exquisite Corpse Video Project.

(WARNING – This video ain’t safe for work on account of nekkid ladies and whatnot).

For this weeks playlist, I invited the writers of Donnybrook to help create an exquisite corpse mixtape, abiding by the rules of the surrealists. I asked that the writers simply listen to the song that they were given and then pass along a song in response. They did not provide a justification of their selections, the song would serve as hypothesis, argument, and conclusion for each writer. I can state that I had a very specific idea that I was trying to convey with the first song, and was curious to see what, if any, aesthetic or thematic overtones would emerge from the seed of the mixtape. Regarding this mixtape, and the game itself, the surrealists would say that we have manifested a collective reality, revealing the personality of a group.

But rather than bore you to tears with analysis, I’ll do as I set out to do and let the playlist speak for itself. There is an initial germ transmitted in the swinging melody of The Kinks’ 20th Century Man, and as it works it’s way through the writers’ minds, it mutates into synth lines and paranoid lyrics. It infects in many forms, shifting shapes and leaping from song to song, showing that style and form are no barrier against contagion. Do you hear any aesthetic themes emerge, any philosophical threads? Do you hear content of the mixtape pulling itself apart and unraveling into a foregone conclusion, one that shows only a devolution from Talking Heads to Rick Astley, a rapid drop into absurdity? Or do you hear nothing more than a gaggle of unconnected minds farting out their musical preferences with no thought, no intent towards the collective?

Thanks to the writers of the Donnybrook Writing Academy for their input, and make sure to click on their names below to see what they’re up to on the site.


Rbt. B. Rutherford – The Kinks – 20th Century Man
Cap’n Colleen – Talking Heads – Nothing But Flowers
Gustav Bahler – The Head and The Heart – Ghosts
Rich LeFevre – The Paper Chase – We Know Where You Sleep
Mrs. Tansy Maude Peregrine – These New Puritans – Fire Power
Father Guido Sarducci IV – Telepathe – Lights Go Down
Sid Pink – Adult – Pressure Suit
Angora Holly Polo – Delta 5 – Mind Your Own Business
Irving J. Silvertoad – Television – See No Evil
Poppy Helena van LiquerJoseph Arthur – Enough to Get Away
Mademoiselle Petulance Forecastle – Parenthetical Girls – Handsome Devil
Ivvy Goldberg, Esq.PJ HarveyRid of Me
Rev. Theodore Marley Renwick-Renwick – Rick Astley – Together Forever
Dr. Lazarus Helm – Baltimora – Tarzan Boy
Professor Honeydew – Gary Low – I Want You

About the Author

Rbt. B. Rutherford is the Donnybrook Manor's Resident Bard/Plant Psychologist. BA in Fecundity, MA in Profundity, Cambridge University, Magna Cum Laude.

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3 Comments on "The Lineage of a Sneeze"

  1. Mary December 7, 2010 at 9:41 am · Reply

    I’m not sure what I find more offensive about this, the naked ladies or the child with no flesh. I most certainly will not be opening this video at work, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s filthy!!!

  2. Ivyy December 7, 2010 at 11:10 am · Reply

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- my song begat Rick Astley. MY SONG BEGAT RICK ASTLEY!!!! I could not be more proud.

  3. John Wenzel December 7, 2010 at 3:19 pm · Reply

    “Rid of Me” is such a kickass song, Ivyy. Nice choice! (even if it did lead to Mr. Astley…)

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