Getting up to speed

 Posted by at 4:38 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 252010

It’s going to be hard getting up
to speed; I’m already weeks behind, but, on the other hand I do need to have a
check-in, to look back. The Savage Detectives starts off:


‘November 2

  I’ve been cordially invited to
join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation
ceremony. It was better that way.’


And we’re off! It feels like a
road movie except there’s no car. Not even a highway. Of course he accepted:
this unknown ‘I’. Me too, I have to accept – though as usual I’ve little idea
what it is I have to accept. The wait at the bus stop in the rain? Yes. The
train delayed, caught by a fatality further up the line, somebody’s quest for
death? Yes. Her leaving? Yes, all of that. And on arrival at the station a break in the clouds, a lifting of
spirits, the waiting freedom of a new beginning? Yes, that too. 

I accept.

Another bar, another coffee: he
leans eagerly into the barista’s telling, but I’m too far away to catch any of
the clues as to which choice to make, what is the destination? And I’m remembering
the dull purple of the entrails in the forest, the killing of the dragon.

Outside, I step across the seat
of the Harley, feel the weight and balance and flick up the prop-stand. The
engine fires up readily enough and I revel in the uneven heartbeat of its ever patient tick-over. Life is very simple: a hotel for a night or three and then off to

Yes, I accept.

Tighten the net.

Feb 232010
wordstall graffiti

Roberto Bolaño, Los Detectives Salvages (1998)


…With its front piece quote from near the end of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano:

“Do you want Mexico to be saved? Do you want Christ to be our King?”



…And transcriptions of the accounts of the crowd of witness, painstakingly reconstructing the scene (‘pay attention’). What have we got to go on so far, one of the crime-busters asks, Not even vaguely anywhere, not even vaguely any day, the other one replies.


What we don’t get, and what we can’t even expect, is the story, such as the myth itself, or anything like it. There are a number of possibilities of course, the usual suspects. For example, here comes The Golden Fleece, the ‘sparkling into the dust’ for instance, which one of the super-sleuths also notices, and you have to take your hat off to them, these detectives don’t miss a thing. Yes, one of them says pointing into the crowd, Put that one in the line-up, agrees the other.


So they bring forward Jason, one of those amechanos kind of men (according to the Greeks), somebody we would judge these days as not lacking in courage, staying power or ambition, not a harmless fool by any stretch, but simply short of the necessary imagination, or perhaps better put, the ‘cunning’ to transform the objective.


Look for any blood on him, one of the detectives says.


They probably find plenty. Some hero of our modern age, they think to themselves, pretending it was he who did it, all blood and fluids and bits of gut on his arms. And the smell! Like the dragon’s teeth, one of the detectives says holding his nose, Right, the other agrees, There is no point keeping him, let him go.


They return to the task, walking slowly around and around, stopping and stooping every now and then to pick up any possible clues, even the smallest pieces, and laying them side by side in rows. What Walter Benjamin called Urgeschichte (‘primal history’), both demonstrating the practice and describing the method of research in his late masterpiece Das Passegen-Werk.

Meanwhile, deep in the forest . . .

 Posted by at 11:41 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 202010

I did say, pay attention, but you threw a scatter of gravel,
fragments of smashed beer bottles sparkling into the dust, as if to say, why
say one thing when you can, with consummate ease, say twenty three?

So it was me who was left to examine the entrails of the
sacrificial beast (I thought we has at least reached the evolutionary heights
of the I Ching, but apparently not). A Swiss army knife abandoned next to the
splatters of vomit – yes it would make me vomit too – and hanging from the arching branch of a sycamore, a grinning mask, ears pricked, eyes alight
with horror, lips drawn back to expose razor sharp teeth. I entertained a
momentary video clip of you rushing off to get your tetanus jab – did you get
bitten? The spilt guts in the middle of the path – one of those paths that
always lead through the woods and twisting in bewilderment to the older parts
of the forest – and I squatted down to examine the viscera, trusting that they
hadn’t got there first and disturbed the mess.

It was an easy read, a real page-turner: violent destruction
followed by a slow and painful recreation, but much more difficult to apply to
the banal details of my everyday life. What was it that I had to leave behind,
intone the litany of the last rites, bury deep, cross myself and move on
towards the brightness of the city, to discover the bejewelled cathedral, speak
to the old monk – if he is still alive, God willing – the old monk who has the
key to the door of the room wherein lies the book I’ve long been promised.

If the night has swallowed him up then I will have to take
to the narrow maze of streets, the unmapped parts of the city where outsiders
rarely survive.

Uncle Wally’s ‘Jour de Sinistre’

 Posted by at 12:55 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 152010

Semantic Understandings outside The Real Van Gogh, the Artist and his Letters, Royal Academy, London (12th February 2010).


Do we not always lie when we write? he had asked the day before. As an extension of speech, I thought to add, all these different tongues and translated words.


Do we not lie just as much in paint or music, and in the other arts? I had replied, meaning those arts which do not employ words for us to remember what they are.


No, he had replied emphatically…


- If one wants truth, life as it is… (to) satisfy that need which we have, that people tell us the truth. (from letter 574)


- Ces toiles vous diront ce que je ne sais dire en paroles (These canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words). (from a letter on display in the exhibition ‘Room’ on Literature)


… From the letters from Vincent (mainly) to his brother Theo.


- Il y a l’art des lignes et couleurs, mais l’art des paroles y est et y restera pas moins. An (unreferenced) stencil written high on the walls of the Octagon Room inside the entrance to the exhibition (along with the English translation underneath which ended with the phrase “- of words that will last just the same”)…


…I remembered also reading, as well as the painting Une Roman Liseuse (1888) in the major exhibition in Amsterdam, which I had seen some years previously, the woman sat in an armchair facing a large green bookcase luminous with light, her identity, as I remembered, hidden, except that the photographic reproduction in the reference book, which I was looking into at that moment with my back to the Octagon Room, to my surprise now showed her face in profile.


It would be the same for Walter Benjamin in his examinations of the ‘Living-System-Object’, including his own ‘Jour de Sinistre’, which was the phrase Theo used in one of his surviving letter written immediately after his brother’s death.

Happy Accidents

 Posted by at 2:42 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 132010

Giving a response is dependent on
the dreams engendered, multiplied by what the other is saying, the words, the semantics. A dream
prompted by the shape, softness, hardness, penetrability, force of those words
that hit, blunder, batter, seduce delicate tissue, tough ligament, overused
muscle, alert for the possibilities of a dream that fits in with my

Being creatures of myth – a
mythological being like Walter Benjamin taking his ‘strong opiate’ – is suicide
a medical condition (is there nothing that is not a medical condition?) – is it
the end of the road – was the road closed and in what way – merely an
accidental overdose? – all we’ve got is what fits in best with our myth of WB
plus our current preoccupations. Uncle Wally, what were you up to?

I love it when I’m watching some
serious TV documentary and the presenter is airily dismissing (old, outdated)
ranges of thought as so much myth and at the same time maintaining with a
straight face the truth – the scientific
truth – of what she/he is saying. A bit of research, a bit of theory and hand
it over to the PR department, the ad (wo)men. As though we could be anything
except caught in a current (ok, it is generally wilfully unconscious) myth.

Surely this is something that I
have to engage in personally – the seemingly arduous task of establishing
(spinning – sounds so easy, doesn’t it) a regenerated myth of myself. What
dream-form should I base it on? It’s got to fit even if it’s approximate to one
or two details (research, evidence based). And then I have to repeat it to myself and others until it
becomes more or less real. Hopefully more. We might even come to regard it as a
true picture.

Somewhere in here is the delight
of discovery, the accidents that turn on the lights. The creation of the
dream-form must (I think) come from those happy accidents. Pay attention.

Uncle Wally’s ‘cul de sac’

 Posted by at 10:54 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 092010

Burgtheater, Solingen (Jan 24th 2010)

It would be a mistake if the idea of being in a cul de sac, or Stra§e gespert (street closed), might give the impression of inaction.

After finishing the Bergische breakfast, we put on our coats and went outside. It was still snowing lightly as we walked past several craft shops selling knives, scissors and other blades of this city, which has long been famed for its fine sword-making skills, towards the inner courtyard of its ancient castle. Around the large doorway on the far side, a plastic arch shaped and designed as a theatre proscenium had been erected, with the single word 'Opera' at its apex in coloured letters. Going in, we found ourselves in a narrow hallway, in which were piled heaps of cardboard cut-out miniaturised sets, puppets and mechanical toys, as well as operatic musical scores, other sheet music, and racks of CDs of the kind which music shops typically have for sale. A sign at the end of the hallway indicated the way into the theatre, and with the permission of the owner-director we went in.

 PIX 2010 012 
When Walter Benjamin's book Einbahnstrasse (One-way Street) was published in January 1928 as an anthology of kleine Forme (short forms, or 'small opera'), the front cover showed a busy city street with three large red framed arrows (with the word Einbahnstrasse in the middle) all pointing one-way to the right, and an empty pavement apart from a black dog sitting looking into a doorway which was also on the right.

Perhaps the direction of the arrows and way the dog was looking simply signify the way into the book by opening it, and it is true that the claim that Benjamin deliberately took his own life at the border between France and Spain in 1940 is now disputed. In the zone between street, private house and passagiata, the strong opiate he took was probably given for medical reasons.

How Come?

 Posted by at 10:24 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 052010

How come? you ask. And I wonder,
yes, how come? and something comes to mind about the build up of evidence, the
case to be made out for dying. What do the medics say? What are the expressions
on their faces? What do their postures, movements, gestures, tones of voice
indicate? What messages are coming from the gods? The family? The friends? Is
the game up? The blessings dried up? The open road turns out to be a narrowing
cul-de-sac? The bad boys are closing in? Or are we simply having a bad day?

Those hard-headed realists are
demanding suicide booths on the high street to give extra poignancy to the,
‘I’m just popping out to the corner shop for a pint of milk’. Though, perhaps
in the spirit of reality-TV democracy it could be decided on a public vote, the
viewers can determine the outcome from the comfort of their armchairs or their

Is this about the final chapters
waiting to be written? I’ve taken due note of friends talking about retirement
and strongly resist the notion. Yes, it’s true that a younger generation has
moved into the space I used to occupy. It’s our children who are exploring
their ambition, the joys and labours of parenthood. So I’m free but no longer
twenty or thirty or forty or even fifty. So I’m free but . . . there are things
I didn’t do fully enough on the journey so far, consequently there is some
making good to do, messes that I’ve been too busy to clear up . . . but then
I’m still too busy – I don’t really want space – I want to work.  Not to sell my labour, I don’t mean
that, I mean the stuff I never attended to and the core of that appears to be
to do with the necessity to create.

There’s a phrase that’s around in
my mind these days, I don’t know how to do it. And I could add, maybe I don’t
even know who I am. These days. These days I’m not what I was and I haven’t
been able to work out what I am. It’s like waiting to see what this new decade
is all about.

Uncle Wally, I see you!

 Posted by at 7:48 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Feb 022010

ans der Dröppelmina, Schlossplatz, Solingen  (24th Jan 2010)


The waitress placed a small porcelain saucer on the white tablecloth under the tap of the coffee pot, in order to catch the drips, it was explained to me, in case the tap leaked, which it might since the well scrubbed metal coffee pot was old, and the tap likely worn after years of use. The metal coffee pot called a Dröppelmina was like a large pear, perfectly round at the base, and supported on three curved legs which ended in small claw feet. Later, I lifted off the bell shaped lid, which fitted exactly over the base of the pot, and looked inside. It was nearly empty, the residue of coffee smelled cold, and I observed that on the saucer below the tap there were the dark marks of dried drops.


At that moment it seemed entirely possible to believe that Walter Benjamin might have also considered the refusal of his academic career at Frankfurt examining the interior of a Dröppelmina here, or somewhere very like it close by. This thought related not so much to a death anxiety, although it is true that the sense had arisen in me, as I had enjoyed the traditional Sunday Bergische breakfast together with my younger friends, that it was probable that I would be the first to die among us, as to an abject feeling of conformism I was experiencing, the same feeling which Benjamin and the other philosophers of the School of that city found so horrifying and also considered so deeply.


How come that I would accept so meekly this 'good death' which was being prepared for me? Why would I like Benjamin so readily bow my head to accept the strong opiate when it was offered to me?