O bella Roma

 Posted by at 11:42 am  Exodus, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 212012
Rome 014

1950, half-way through a century, the twentieth century, and only a round dozen years into the twenty first, it seems so long ago. Robert Lowell opens his Life Studies on a train from Rome, the City of God, he calls it, to Paris. It’s 1950. O bella Roma! The stewards go by banging on gongs as the train traverses ‘the fallow Alpine snow’. I miss Rome – I am saying that. Simon Sebag Montefiori has been walking rather briskly round Rome these last three weeks on BBC4 giving us a rapid fire tour of Roman history; three thousand years in three hours. More often than not there seemed to be no connection with where he was in Rome to the content of his focus which added to his hurrying, left me feeling somewhat agitated or incredibly sleepy. Occasionally, of course, he was in the right place at the right time. Perhaps that didn’t matter, Rome, can always be beautiful as Lowell admits, O bella Roma!

Of course, if I happen to mention my feelings, at times painful longings, for Rome, she wonders why I don’t move there: what’s stopping you? And then, what are doing for Christmas?

This is going to be such fun, I think.

There are, needless to say, many reasons for not catching the next flight to Rome. Lowell talks of Pius XII defining the dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption, ‘Mary risen – at one miraculous stroke,/angel wing’d, gorgeous as a jungle bird!’ That’s lovely, that gorgeous as a jungle bird. And then Lowell manages to jam Mary and Pius and the Swiss guards, against Caesar, and ‘The Duce’s lynched, bare, booted skull’. The violence of a power struggle, of maintaining power is never far away. Never far away from, in fact, from that love that we call the spiritual, ‘through the monstrous human crush’ as Lowell puts it. Before arriving in Paris, ‘our black classic’, he has to check out the Roman poets: Ovid, Lucan, Tacitus and Juvenal. Of course that’s what he is, or wants to be, a poet; somebody who does it with words. Neither an emperor nor a pope, merely a writer.

I don’t know what to say, I say to her, I think you should do what you have to do – it’s no longer anything to do with me. But I can’t move to Rome – not yet. I will give you your freedom for Christmas, how’s that? You no longer owe me anything and I guess from that way of thinking, I don’t owe you anything either. Quits! I want to laugh outrageously.

And as I remember Rome can be mucky, uncared for, outside the central touristy bits. One of my favourite bits being Garbatella.

Dec 202012
Angelus Novus Klee

Let’s remain topical and stay in La Bella Flora: here are x2 places recommended by the Wu Ming (“slightly more than expected from a band of novelists”) for us Anglophones to find out “what’s going on in Italy streetswise, grassrootswise, riotwise, revolutionwise and so on”:
Struggles in Italy
Italy Calling

We’ll keep latest copies of these two, and more From the good side of Italy  available on our newstand from now on as we trundle Wordstall through the our fluid continental locations we visit. That’s a promise… but just hang on please for a few weeks until the digital magazine racks get here and we work out how to put them up on our stall.

Bella / Bello!

Dec 182012

My, my, O Pantalone (magnifici, e zenerosi Signori), What a come-back! Mario Monti’s government is in its last days in the latest version of the la Bella Flora panto, and out from the shadows nostro parruchiere appears – again and again as it seems to us at the far back of the theatre in the cheap-cheap seats - like an Inamorato resurrected out of the commedia dell’arte (ref: The Italian Comedy, Piere Louise Ducharte, tr Randolph T Warner. Dover 1966).

Of course to see him on the come-back trail like this gives us all quite a shock, but we must learn to take the long view, and in the annals of the ‘best preserved’ of the great undead nostro parruchiere has some way to go. The eight mummies in the Bleikeller* of Bremen Cathedral are among my leading contenders (well ahead of Lenin and other of the ’best preserved’s of the last century). Now over 300 years old nobody quite knows how the famous Bleikeller eight have survived to live on so well with hair, leathery skin, nails and teeth all apparantly intact. One is a student who has lain in his coffin since 1705, another the city chancellor (up to the year 1730)…  And the list goes on, the Swedish officer who went for a lie down after being blown up in an explosion – all survive in an effortless present tense and, although it makes our flesh crawl, we cannot help but join the gawping crowd -

…And then there is also the mysterious Englishwoman “Lady Stanhope” (shades of La Bella Pascale!), who shares the same horizontal position as the sprightly forever-eighty-year-old ’labourer’.  Bunga Bunga, Nostro Parruchiere! For you there is – and will always be - only the everlasting now, and for us the uncomfortable feeling that somehow it is we – the crowds who come to gawp - who provide the strange alchemy which feeds you and allows you to continue to love on.

*Bleikeller – tr = ’Lead cellar’

The Grammar of Hope

 Posted by at 10:46 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 152012
wordstall text background v2

French newspaper Liberation likened him to a mummy and the long dead are welcoming the return of the nearest thing we’ve got to the fiddling emperor, Nero – the Nero of plastic surgery; one Silvio Berlusconi. The poor fellow has been subjected to plastication while still alive (?)  and his followers –bandaged mummies – are out on the streets of Rome. Meanwhile closer to home wordstall.com is looking rather good, very good in fact, perhaps it could be called attractive with artwork courtesy of sonnyjim, ummmm tasty!

Back underground the crowds are conflicted in their longings: those longing for Christmas and those longing for a Christ-free world. Right on cue, I look up to discover the deluge has arrived. The tunnels will flood and we’ll be forced up, clambering madly up the narrow, slippy, metal ladders, desperate to keep our heads above the rapidly rising waters.

Accusing waters, as though we are to blame. Haven’t they heard of us and them. The we in this case being the victims of their malign intentions. Honestly none of this is my fault. And that’s what I tell her on those rare occasions when we meet. Passing ships in the night, a phrase reminiscent of times when we sailed on ships rather than flashed by above the world like gods – gods of innocence, jaw dropped gawpers with the promise of gold in our pockets.

We could do something different, I say, admittedly with not a great deal of conviction.

Like what? she rejoins.

I hadn’t thought that far ahead and I struggle not to shrug but do anyway, the shrug being such a powerfully programmed reflex.

The grammar of hope, I say.

Pardon . . . and what might that mean? Her head lowers and I can almost see the spread of those horns, pointy and powerful, tremendous weight behind them.

These two ships are floating further and further apart as though caught in two contrary currents.

Here in the cafe there is laughter in the air, good humoured banter and some hard driving rock on the sound system. I noticed Frank Ocean was number one in the Guardian’s top rock/pop albums of 2012 with Channel Orange and I have never heard of him. What sort of significance does this have?

It is not so much that there are two contrary currents but, I realise, she is on a strongly moving current, her life feeling full of meaning and right-on entitlement whereas I am bobbing helplessly in the swell, sometimes feeling sick and spitting out the bitter water and sometimes simply . . . well, I suppose it must be something like unconscious. I should at least be like a surfer, waiting for the wave. Here I am without a surfboard . . .

I could . . . No, I’ll wait until the new year.

Toujours et Pres de Moi

 Posted by at 7:12 pm  OUT in the WILDERNESS, Tonite at the Coliseum  Comments Off
Dec 122012
Tonite at the Coliseum

Opera Erratica at Spitalfields Winter Music Festival on Tuesday night (11th December) – and I was feeling decidedly underdressed. No, it wasn’t because I was at ‘posh opera’ and I should have put on a white tie or some other moth-balled nonsense, No, it was just the intense cold walking there, one of those rare evenings in London when the ice crystals sparkle on the street pavements.

Inside the Hoxton Hall: a group of five singers from Ex Audi stand behind the stage. There are no other musicians, all the singers have perfect pitch and they sing unaccompanied - nine superficially unrelated pieces which are sung uninterupted one after the other. Most of the songs are modern (Salvatore Sciarrino, Christopher Fox and James Weeks), but there are also some songs by Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) – “far reaches of chromatic harmony… into a musical realm beyond that of his contemporaries… a music of existential isolation” (the programme notes describe).

On stage behind a see-through  screen a middle-aged man and woman appear. They don’t speak, but they bring with them two wooden boxes with lids which they place on a table at the front of the stage, and then open them. The first song has begun already, and then a long naked arm appears out of one of the boxes stretching upwards towards the ceiling.

And then a small naked male figure emerges from the other box. And then another naked women from the first box. And then the same figures appear again and again through the different songs, but in different guises, sometimes clothed, sometimes naked. And then a third woman appears. She is always the same, naked apart from her white underpants. Sometimes the three people are involved in unfolding events together. Sometimes they are alone. The midle-aged man and woman appear to see them sometimes, and react with each other. Sometimes their faces express an emotion, perhaps it is a memory, but at other times it appears like chaos. There is no other sound apart from the singing.

We know of course that the three figures coming out of the boxes are not real. It is an effect called Pepper’s Ghost illusions. The show (which lasts about an hour) has been created by Patrick Eakin Young – from a time when he was living in a  foreign country and he didn’t have any actors he could use…

… to explore the issues which interest him of “loss and memory, the frustrating complexity of communication, and the projection and perception of the self”.

We know of course that the figures are not real, but we cannot help but enter fully into the life of the play, and the songspiel of harmonies takes us deeper and deeper in. I even feel my eyelids starting to flutter shut towards the end.

Long Lane, SE1

 Posted by at 6:11 pm  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 122012
Rome 014

It was very cold and dark on Monday evening, and heading off east on foot from London Bridge in the fluid continental location of subjectivity, it wasn’t my intention to go as far south as the Bermondsea. But by then I was also becoming hungry, and wherever it was I was meant to be getting to by 7pm – the listening station where I hoped to meet a group of other men for a conversation – there wasn’t going to be time for me to go into a sit-down diner for a meal, but equally I did want to sell myself out to fast food either… ‘Teaching of the good life’…

How long do you stay open, I asked in the only shop whose lights were still shining far down the long lane, Until eight o‘clock Mello replied – short for Camello as I found it. Apart from me, only Italian was spoken inside the shop, and three men were talking together in what seemed to me were strong accents from the South. I am from Milan, Mello told me a little later after two of the men had said their goodbyes and left, But one of my friends was from Rome, he added, and he was telling a Roman joke.

Can you make me a Panini? Sure, choose the loaf you want. Cheese? Pecorino. Toasted, and with some salad and prosciutto. Perfetto. Take a seat, I will bring it over to you when it is ready. Want a coffee afterwards? Certo. Of course.

Moral Irony of this sort is also the kind Theodore Adorno is perhaps using at times in Minima Moralis as he conducts an investigation of modernity in the middle of the twentieth century, and what practices survive of being in community with others, which have otherwise lapsed into “neglect, sententious whimsy and… finally oblivion” (‘Dedication to Max’ P 15).

The morality being described here is perhaps the least possible for us still to be call ourselves human – in the sense that it is a morality can still be recognised as meaning anything, and actually belongs to the category of that thing we call ‘morality’. Adorno’s Minima Moralis is structured in three parts – Part one 1944, Part two 1945, and Part three 1946-47 – and each part is written in a long series of apparently disconnected and fragmented sections in several languages (six in all!). And there are no footnotes.

You might think therefore that the book was an experimental novel. For instance, one section (Part one # 36) has the title ‘The Health Unto Death’. It describes the subtle sickness of psychic economy, a “rash printed on the skin in regular patterns like a camouflage of the inorganic”, whose faint but yet not quite invisible tracery has become taken for normality. Such forms of description are not to be found find in the latest International Directories of Medical Diseases, nor are they generally to be found in the theory sections of psychotherapeutic dissertations or even in the texts of analytic philosophers (those mainly coming from the English speaking world).

But despite its experimentation with subjectivity, Moralis Minima is not a novel, and the “rash” which Adorno describes was his way of trying to describe as precisely as possible the modern day disease processes which have infected mass action (along with mass culture and mass consumption) that have resulted in the complete erosion of the ‘alt-weg’ old ways of collective sacrifice, and their replacement with more and more sophisticated forms of advertising.

Look at me! Look at me! The sandwich boards on our chests and backs cry out (front and back), and perhaps we become drunk with our own words. It is at the extremes of these deeply ashamed disgraces, akin to those of an alcoholic journalistic incapacity of a Joseph Roth, and during other rare and fleeting moments that the objectivity (which also used to be called “class struggle) of the long lane can be retraced.

Laughing out loud

 Posted by at 11:00 am  Fundamental Perversions, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Dec 082012
wordstall pipes

I said: it’s not going to get any better . . . then the thought seemed to run out of energy, the thought itself about to evaporate after hitting some blockage in the road. After all sometimes it was apparent that things did indeed get better. Sometimes. Although they were just as likely to go wrong, to get worse.

Is that what you think? I asked her. That things are going to get better?

As usual all I had to offer were questions and questions about questions. You see I want to understand.

No you don’t, you just want to stop me from doing anything that doesn’t include you.

There was Virgil and Dante down there in the inferno, tourist with guide gawping at the variety of sufferings imposed on Dante’s enemies. Dante’s Commedia. That word comedy. How many in the crowd laughed at the public executions – the hangings, Monsieur le guillotine, let alone the far greater excesses of extravagant punishment. Does the suicide bomber laugh as he pulls the plug, presses the switch. I read in the Guardian a few days ago that the face of the suicide bomber somehow survives the explosion even though the rest of the skull is in a million fragments. Hysterically we laugh our way into some new hell. Excited as hell. Laughing out loud.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ (Revelation 21:5)

And to go with this Naomi Klein picked up this from Condoleezza Rice:

‘The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up.’ (September 2002, on the need to invade Iraq).

Life is not just a comedy, it’s serious.

Yes, of course it is I’m tempted to say but don’t because I’m distracted by this bi-polar sort of vision of it being both, like two images superimposed one on top of the other. Could we do the serious stuff in the morning and then go to the pub in the evening and have a good old laugh about it all.

I think we should split up, she says using her most utterly serious tone.

Really! But I can’t hold the outrageous laughter inside anymore and out it splutters and then roars.

In the heat of that ecstatic moment everything was possible and nothing impossible and nothing mattered.

A few minutes later it really did and it really hurt. The pain was sharp and overwhelmed me.

‘People were in prison so that prices could be free.’ Eduardo Galeano 1990.

Wise man, I thought.


Thanks to Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) for the quotations.

Dec 042012
wordstall 1

It has happened again. I was sat in a chair with another book in my hands, one which I had been silently reading, and I found the words I had heard once before being repeated in my ears – I would prefer not to. This time it was spoken even more emphatically, a command now, and I was becoming less certain as to the source, not sure that the words originated in my own thoughts or that they had been spoken to me, “I would prefer not to”, by another person.

Paranoid Schizophrenia? You should create a ‘Timeline’, a friend told me recently who went on to tell me that in its absence we have been lucky so far. That was also my ‘aunty’s’ opinion, at any rate it was when I visit her last in the War Hospital two weeks ago. “You always bring me luck”, she said. Against the odds I thought, as we attempted to recollect together an originating moment in time from a mostly forgotten and uncertain history.

Our campaign and the present offensive in which we are engaged is aimed of course against the citadel of the diagnosis of madness, and in the progress of this long war we are currently entrenched in front of the walls of an enemy redoubt whose name is ‘Relapse’. That at any rate was the description given on the basis of certain events and our hurried retreat some seven months ago that resulted in the sectioning under the Mental Health Act. Since then it has been trench warfare and there have also doubts about our capacity. However, eventually after persistent effort, we were successful in our requests to examine the clinical case notes, not everything since the beginning but at least the last three year. Since when we have been attempting to challenge both the diagnosis and the circumstances of the attack last May with the enemy. Our confusional state it appears on the evidence of the notes clinical was due to the effects of a commonplace urinary tract infection.

I would prefer not to – Are we alone in feeling paranoid? I am certain for instance that I would prefer not to be continuing with this story. Resistance.

The book which I was reading at the time the negative command was given was Tony Judt’s, The Memory chalet (2011 Vintage). His last, and “almost unbearably moving”, it stated on the front cover in front of a fuzzy picture of three red railway carriages curving along a rising gradient and disappearing into a forest of snow laden pine trees. It was winter and snowing hard.

Judt died as is well known in 2010 when he was only 62. “When I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2008″ – he reminded us of the originating moment of the disease with the habits of the historian in the first piece written under the book’s title (The Memory Chalet), but then another way of writing emerged based on his memories which came to him during the nights of his progressively and completely incapacitating illness of a particular hotel in Switzerland in which he had stayed as a child.

The book had been sent in the post. It was intended for me. Rather, as I think now, it was intended for us. It began as a result of an evening conversation I had with another friend a little over a month ago. She lives in Berlin and is a successful architect. We sat together at a dinner, a family reunion at the end of a day which had involved what would seem to an outside observer a seemingly disconnected series of moments and meetings; one in front of a great mausoleum of white marble great marble, another gathered around the mummified remains of a child on the second floor of a museum, and a third in the ballroom of a fin de siecle mansion in the presence of local government officials and business dignitaries.

A series of complex moments and meetings which it would be difficult to connect together or give meaning to except that they had all occurred during the course of a single day, and in our conversation together during the evening I had attempted to describe them to her in terms of:
1. A fluid continental location (fluid because there is the sense of a necessity of constant movement between one city to another, from one hotel to another, be it in Berlin, Trieste, Kracow, or Istanbul)
2. The writing genre known as the feuilleton (or ‘essayism’ as we would probably have to name it here in the Anglophone world, although I wonder if the Chapter 62 ‘The Earth too, but especially Ulrich Pay Homage to the Utopian of Essayism’ is an adequate translation of the last word of that chapter title, which is to be found in Robert Musil’s famous book A Man Without Qualities)
3. Performance Art (in the presence of an audience of at least one person; let us say of the method that ‘N’ (The number of subjects) is always equal to, or > 1.

Equally undecideable (“undecidable” in the sense that Derrida perhaps might use the word) – that we would prefer not to; including Musil’s argument in the chapter on Essayism against the use of quotations in any later work of writing be it called essay or feuilleton that was criss-crossing the same ground as the original; and including any meaning being intended or implied whenever and wherever we committed towards being decided about anything – who is fighting who, suspect wholes, and the cascading fragments – such as the context for Derrida’s thinking in 1967, his war on Structuralism, and the book he wrote then ‘Writing and Difference’, and the same interdict as Musil had made concerning selective quoting from other sources; and including regurgitation or a shortened form of the entirety of the words which might pass between us, or a description of the setting, or the atmosphere – Except the form of the realist novel, my architect friend had replied during our conversation over dinner, but the image of that moment was already fading in our memories, and we knew our powers would not be adequate to recall it in any truthful or adequate way; and including the exploration of the feuilleton genre , although not on;y in the purist form of satire or polemic as created by Karl Kraus in pre-Great War Austria – Or is it the overlaps which occur betwen Musil’s form of the novel in A Man without Qualities, and Tony Judt’s Memory Chalet, she must have also said during our conversation, although it seems improbable to make the connection now. And I don’t know what sort of genre this is, she added.

The second “undecidable” (rather than “unbearable” in our opinion, and numbered ’2′ in the progression of the book) piece in Judt’s book was called ‘Night’, after which a new section began that was marked by a blank page, and whose first piece was called ‘Austerity’. It was a hard hitting polemical piece that was in fact well in the feuilleton tradition of Karl Kraus, but it was at the end of this piece (Page 32 to be precise) when the affliction returned – “We would prefer not to”. However, it was equally clear to us from having examined the table of contents previously that most if not all of the rest of the book had already been encountered and read by us already. The chapter titles, or numbered pieces, or list of feuilletons if you prefer, which we had once before read and to the end or so it seemed at that moment despite the negative command, included Captive Minds (a visit to the “Red Soil” location of Czeslaw Milosz’s family mansion on the Polish-Lithuanian border), and Edge People (on”My People” and national, and especially European national identity, and the marginals), among the others more lyrical recollections of childhood food, school, adolescence and growing up in postwar London.

We had sat together in silence, listening to the many other speeches that were given during that day in the War Hospital, but we believed that we were being watched, as well as being read and spoken to, and our performance was also being attended.