Which clubs do you (or should you) belong to?

 Posted by at 12:35 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 292011

Which club(s) of suffering should you join? Just the regular, common or garden variety, I guess, or to put it another way: the glory that is to be human is to suffer. At times . . . unless you are sitting on a narrow boat pleasantly stoned or drunk, no longer care worn, a soft joy emanating from the dark waters in which everything is lost, promising dreamless eternal sleep, no heaven or hell to disturb the debris half buried in the wasted pollutants of a mere century – the merest nanosecond in the ungraspable vastness of the timeless universe. Can we turn night into day? No problem. Can I find words and shape them into meanings that are to the point of this moment? No, generally not, but even in the murkiest waters one might capture a rare glint and paste it on to an imaginary page.

    These fragments of words that are already beginning to build up a strata, to be buried and twisted by heat and upheaval, bring to mind Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams which I was lucky enough to notice and go and see last weekend – though not in 3D which is not available at our local cinema. The mixture of these drawings of animals from 30,000 plus years ago and Herzog’s idiosyncratic commentary, propelled a movement into a near timeless space in which the 30,000 years evaporated, a movement in which they are us and we are them through the work of what we call art. Art that takes us into the caves of being – dance in particular comes to mind – and another German film director, Wim Wenders, has a film out Pina, a tribute to the work of  the late Pina Bausch, a choreographer, who from what I’ve seen of her work was able to take us ‘back’ into the cave of our being; a me/not-me constellation. Genetic? Archetypal? Difficult to find words of sufficient accuracy and seemingly beyond the confines of rational attempts to think of reality; rather than launching into the more direct efforts of art.

    Then I take a sideways step, sideways, backwards, forwards – are there such directions? (And there is Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home – was the buried cave also Dylan’s territory?) – to the Mass which at best I experience as a timeless place and in a strange way without words, or at least words that have become sound, polished and sculpted over the centuries by repetition and no shortage of conflict. Whereas, often, in my day to day life, I feel the persecution of managing to do less and less in a time that floods down the plug hole with ever increasing speed.

    It is as though we know it was wrong to ever want to travel faster than walking but the addiction to speed was always going to be irresistible.


The Olympics

 Posted by at 11:12 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 272011

About our limitations; so many things are going on all at the same time, and there are so many questions to decide upon and so many events to choose from simultaneously. Can we really succeed in going any faster than we are doing now? And am I about to miss the booking deadline, or have I already done so?

Over the Easter weekend in London, I was sat underneath the north road flyover where it crosses the waters of the Regent canal, the other side of the bridge where the gleaming new King’s Place concert auditoriums (and the Guardian and Observer newspapers) are located, close to the crossroads with Goodsway, the road to the St Pancras InterRail station and newly reopened hotel spires, leading past the rubble of the old brick bunkers that had once stored the coal for almost the entire city of empire one hundred years previously, the coal being all brought by horse drawn canal boats from the Midlands at walking pace.

And it occurred to me as I leaned back on the towpath grass of the Jubilee Greenpath that at walking pace only a small change in the spelling of that phrase was required and I was already arrived at Kings Place, so that it indeed seemed possible that we had set out from Leicester on the London Road only moments before, in a kind of musical transposition that was interweaving the swarming sounds of tabla, voice and sitar from the Darbar Festival performers of the classical Indian traditions taking place in the concert auditoriums throughout the Easter weekend with the sounds of my boy and young adult life in the east Midlands between 1951 and 1973.

It was less than we were promised all those years ago I thought, looking up at the series of large ‘artist impression’ billboards representing the vast new developments about to take place between the to-be-built hypermarket and the Kings Cross and St Pancras railway stations. Several bargees and their canal boats were chuffing by with mainly younger people on them lying in exaggerated positions of relaxation, holiday drinking cans of beer and bottle of wine in the warm sunshine, while alongside me were several older men fishing with their rods and lines dangling over the canal water. The nearest to me dressed in football ‘No 1’ t-shirt and faded red sun hat was being spoken to by a companion stood behind him swaying slightly with an open can of beer in his hand. No work, no money, no fuck, the swaying man said in a torrent of ongoing fuck-me fisherman speak.

Sat in front of the billboard on which the single word “gentrifuckation” had also been scrawled in thick black marker pen, I was like a wanderer in  Zagajewski’s poem – I stop for a moment, / uncertain which suffering I should / join.

Zombies – or is it possible to not make any decisions

 Posted by at 11:25 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 222011

Death is much debated – the curse of mortality introduced by Adam or, alternatively, thank God for death; it’s life’s form of housekeeping, sweeping away the old, the past it. In addition there is the more technical debate about the actual dividing line between life and death. At what point does brain death occur or in older, traditional technologies, at what point does the soul abandon the dead husk of its carapace and fly free. As always with debates, certainty promises much relief, which is, presumably, why some of our number make a practice of sounding certain. They see the relief on others’ faces and smile to themselves, ‘I did that’, and indulge fantasies of power.

    And then there are the inbetweenies; not quite this, nor quite that. Not quite alive, nor quite dead: the zombies. The story of Lazarus comes to mind. Four days in the grave – he might be smelly, his sister complains, why didn’t you come sooner. Was Lazarus the first zombie? Did he ever die (again)? Or is he still amongst us and living in New York, wealthy and anonymous? It could be a story told by a stand-up comic or an alternative health practitioner.

    When is it ever right to let someone die? Was it a good idea to raise Lazarus from the dead? I mean for him? Was he grateful? Should we or did we let God die? Or murder him? No longer fit for purpose. So that we can be alone to chew over the fat, laugh, get a bit drunk and occasionally take a vote on which idea should be allowed to die or which to keep alive or do we store it, neither dead nor alive on some shelf in the archives? Of course, we never know when one of the old ideas (apparently long dead) might be in need of resurrection.

    There are a lot of us now – 6 billion or so – and I suppose one way of understanding, of imagining that stupendous number is as an archive, an immense resource, from which we never know when the next great idea is going to emerge. Is it ever a good idea to throw anything away? Look in my garage, you will see what I mean.


At the Comic Edge

 Posted by at 10:22 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 192011

There is a difference, and it could be a big one, between deciding (or even praying) to do nothing… and having nothing to do. For a start, in the first way of thinking we would like to suggest that we have a choice in the matter. The second way of thinking suggests we probably don’t.

I want to start from the second proposition – having nothing to do. Or is “having nothing better to do” more accurate, since maybe there is always also some value judgement involved? I think it is.

Because in reality there is always some small thing worth the effort of bothering with. Nothing dramatic, a necessity really, like clearing the throat before speaking, it is often as dull as that, and close to boredom the like of crossing a territory as vast as the pampas where we have been these last weeks and months, the dust being blown everywhere and making our throats dry, and a lassitude and an irritation around the edges of the eyes.

With an endless flatness underfoot, and a receding horizon in which the mountains in the distance never appear to be getting any closer. What am I trying to say? That the words always fail in our inevitable one-way movement from the transparent to the opaque, but it is better than irony, and please don’t underestimate the beauty or power of a creative system, the aesthetic.

Like during a visit to Leicester in 1968. It is before the coming of the city centre underpasses, bypass, and expressways, since I am (or was then) just too young for Paris, and for the revolution apparently breaking out there. Or for the lure of the East and Istanbul, which of course you and I only reached for the first time a few months after we began writing here five years ago. And growing up fast, but in 1968 still in the last moments of my boy-life and having nothing better to do in the city, and I am making the long walk along the pavements, and through the market where the Asian newcomers throng, and finding my own way to where I want to get to.

To the Comic Kiosk: (1) where words and pictures are exchanged (some of them inevitably for money), (2) ‘under an object that acts as a shadow, or shade-maker’ (sometimes it is very much worth looking into the source of words; kiosk - in Persian kušk), and (3) where the comic is harvested, amassed and collected at a face value that is better than the merely ironic.

In row upon row without end. For example, here is one from off the stack, a recent favourite of mine from the cover of Zombie Economics (“a chilling tale” (2010)) by John Quiggin:

Zombie economics

In other words, and in case you have not realised yet, I am articulating an object within a philosophy of political action.

“This is clearly the next step”

 Posted by at 10:32 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 152011

That might well be true, you do sound as though you know what you are talking about, but actually there are so many other views pressing in that I fear I may well have to consider the options for the next century or two . . . and then we have the conundrum of democracy. Those speedy f—ks, high on their own narcissistic excitement, the thrill of possibility, the I want, the I must have now – look, somehow or other the idiots have elected us, so let’s not let the opportunity slip by, what wheezes can we dream up, sketch them out on the back of a fag packet, yes, of course I’m drunk!! The only criterion is that the super-rich get richer. The middle can be squeezed (they are so masochistic) and the range of the impoverished is spread ever wider. And when we say we’ve got to cut public spending, they believe us. It’s amazing what we can get away with.

    Let’s be clear, democracy is hard work. Perhaps the demand is too high. Perhaps we would prefer a benign dictatorship. But the evidence for the existence of benign dictatorships would appear to be, well, non-existent. It’s the usual story of corruption and abuse. Democracy is the way forward but how do I as an individual engage in it beyond what can seem like an impotent act – voting. So the demand is for ‘the real’. But how do we find the real in the lying world, the hall of mirrors of politics; a politics that is further confused by the dissemination of lies by powerful media moguls.

    What comes to mind is the fight in the 19th century for education and health; the combination of science and commitment and pressure to force change, to force money hungry factory owners to change their ways. Health and education now take up huge amounts of money – taxes – to maintain and improve. Life, after all, is not just for the few. One can see the posh boys licking their lips in anticipation in reducing even if they can’t get rid of these imagined costly burdens on their super-wealthy friends . . . just in case they might be inhibited, even for one minute, from making ever more money beyond one’s wildest dreams.

    Yes, and we grow old, too. Yes, there is this strange journey across the pampas, mountains forever in the distance. What does it matter, providing I can write another poem, the next blog, paint – I glance across at my most recent painting with that shock of ‘did I do that!’ – and who knows, maybe I’ll have enough money to get by.

    And yes, there is an aesthetic, a sense of being pleased with an arrangement of words on the page, colours on the canvas. No doubt to do with balance in composition, the way this bit works with that bit, leading the eye/mind on and into other feelings, states, meanings, possibilities. Is it ever good enough? Probably not – it’s like democracy: always in need of greater effort, vigilance and commitment, plus a sufficient number of us who believe in it.

    What about the importance of doing nothing? Dear God, remind me to spend some time doing nothing.


Without End

 Posted by at 8:13 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 112011

And how beauty is manifested. Or so we are claiming because if you run your eye across to the right hand side of this page, and click on the A Manifesto link, you will find there (item 10) the statement that “There is an aesthetic”.

That is a creative system, And what is it? From our dialogic strap line comes the idea that it is an exchange system, a mix of questions and… – , a mix of questions and statements (I would prefer to say that rather than questions and answers) – concerning the spiritual life.

As opposed to the “spiritually lifeless”, a phrase I picked up recently on reading an online essay by CK Williams the American poet (‘All Around the World the Same Song…’ (2009)), in order to describe when a form has become “the end in itself”…

…And not worth the effort of bothering with. Like the majority of Anglo-Saxon based publishing these days, one of the Colonels bellows up from below, Like most English novels, another one chips in, And much of the poetry too.

It cannot be denied we tend to spend a lot of our literary time here abroad. These last few months we’ve been on the Argentine pampas, coming across hitherto unfamilar names such as Alejandra Pizarnik (Alejandra, alejandra / debayo estoy yo / alejandra), and Néstor Perlongher . Before that – Or is it simultaneously given Alejandra’s lost Russian-Jewish ancestry? – we were in eastern Europe and talking with some of our friends from there about the likes of Adam Zagajewski and Jenny Erpenbeck, and the many others who they intercept at their ‘Listening Stations’ and help us with translations.

A continental reach which is embodied here as walking, talking and writing, and that works as an ongoing movement between question and statement. It is also a one-way-street system, meaning that it is always moving from the transparent to the opaque, always failing to arrive in any final sense, constantly having to move on.

CK Williams happens to be reminding us about something else similarly one-way currently: About our age, What's that? Well, sunshine, we are getting old. This year Williams intends to visit England (in fact three times) in order to deliver a lecture entitled On Being Old.

That Being Old is also an important part of our aesthetic, incorporating a bubbling soup of ingredients including ‘late style’, decadence, late capitalism, the comic edge of aging, and other forms of corporeal and incorporeal limitedness and endings. Seeking for one word to name it, we sometimes call it The Coda:

You say she’s gone off now in her blue dress, and that she has taken a white horse with her too. There was a tone of finality in your voice so that it sounded sad when you spoke, but as I have been standing outside much of this weekend in the beautiful sunshine soaking up the warmth from off the white washed walls and enjoying that very same tobacco you had previously saved to give to her, a shadow has been slowly stretching across the wall, first a hand with the fingers moving like they are gently stroking the air, and then an arm turning and stretching, so that I begin to think of it as an invitation, and that I might bend my body sideways and put out my arm to see if I can join it with hers.

No smoke, gitane, I am sure there is music in the air as well.

(For Linda Chase Broda who died after a short illness on Friday 8th April)

She’s gone

 Posted by at 9:52 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 082011

Another session of seeing how the words fit together in the fading of the day. There’s a cooling breeze off the sea and the boys (plus one girl) are, with some intensity of focus, playing their evening round of endless football. Bright eyes in sweat stuck dusty faces. Some old cowboy at the bar is telling anybody who wants to know that UK prime minister David ‘Pinky’ Cameron has been arrested, though what he’s been charged with is not entirely clear. Surely he wasn’t really trying to sell the Colonel a nuclear bomb or was it merely a junior chemistry set with the added extra of a smudged leaflet on bomb making techniques. Or more likely wanting to get in first with a special deal for a cut-price air force. Perhaps the paperwork on that old drugs offence has caught up with him. Like the poor old rich man, Silvio the Crooner, there are bits of Velcro hidden away in  hard to reach places (even for underage prostitutes) on which old crimes are hooked.

    Did you see Zoe leave town on that white horse – was she wearing a blue dress – what sort of dress was it, what sort of blue, a washed out cerulean blue??

    Ah, if only I was younger . . . even the imagination can’t quite make it, let alone what we kindly refer to as the physical body. It’s possible that the physical evaporated some way back. The artist looks at his pencilled, charcoaled lines, rubs at them with a blackened thumb, then thins them with a lump of gristle (at least that’s what it looks like), thins them to a mere suggestion of the human, what we call spirit (perhaps) – a Dawkinite non-concept – can you see St Richard, he’s staring out of the corner he’s painted himself into. He thought all discourses could be reduced to one: his, of course.

    A woman, tallish with straggly hair and a crooked smile, blue jeans and a rare silk shirt, stops by my table and tells me, Zoe was dressed in black when she left on the white horse.

    Can you see the future, I ask her.

    Sometimes, she says.

    I wish I had a pipe and tobacco to light as she hesitates over her next line.

    Sometimes, she continues, it smacks you right between the eyes.

    Yeah, I say, shrugging as I say it, thinking, don’t commit yourself and for God’s sake don’t add, I know what you mean. She’s sort of pretty, though I guess she’s a bit old for pretty. Is attractive a better word? She’s certainly attracting me.

    Would you like, I start to say, but I’m too slow (so what’s new!) and she’s gone.



 Posted by at 12:02 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Apr 052011

Ouch! Oh Zoe… Or was it Bios.. and you are right, in her kind of company we are urgently in need of a Judith or a Giorgio (Agamben), in order to spare us our blushes and cover our confusions, since, in criticality speak, this is no way to carry on an interrogation, and it is also certainly not what the ‘colonels’ had in mind when they gave us our certificates, and pinned those stars to our chest.

So Whistle for Judith or Giorgio. For Carson or Kristeva… Or agent Pizarnik!

Pizarnik, Who are you? We have been authorised to ask at the outset, but before the words are even out of our mouths the question seems to have bounced back and smacked us between the eyes, or, should I better say, whacked us in the crutch. However, even as we double over and fall to the ground, we keep our comic edge, crawling about in the dirt, the air whistling through our pursed lips, there is nothing else for it, Keep smiling through the tears, like your remark last week, ‘We don’t do torture in this country’.

Ah Zoe! – We also called her ‘The Face’, when it was dark and about my bedtime and 1966, and I was sat watching Top of the Pops. Wheels of Fire – Whistle, and I will come to you. And do you remember, in 1966 it was still just possible to be Roy Rogers, and call for a horse with an innocent name like Trigger, a chestnut mare with a white star on her forehead. And the soft drumming of hooves after.

Only here on the pampas in 1966 the horse is white, and her name is Alejandra, alejandra / debayo estoy yo / alejandra :

Nocturnal Singer

To Olga Ovozco

Joe, macht die Musick von damals nacht…

She who died of her blue dress is singing. Imbued with death she sings to the sun of her drunkenness. Inside her song there is a blue dress, there is a white horse, there is green heart tattooed with the echoes of the beating of her dead heart. A prey to all perditions, she sings beside the lost girl who is herself: her lucky charm. And in spite of the green fog on her lips and the grey cold in her eyes, her voice corrodes the distance opening between thirst and the hand in search of a glass. She sings.

(Alejandra Pizarnik. Selected Poems, tr Cecilia Rossi. 2010, Waterloo Press, Hove. P 135)