Mar 302013

More or less gloom these days, being political or more political, we attempt to excavate the radical tradition and expose those who lay claim it: is it  the radical right, or the radical left? Both stake claim to the space and rhetoric, both claiming in the radical tradition to be the political providers of our happiness.

It was the UK Budget last week, in case you missed it, and the turn of the radical right to have a go at staking their claim. Chancellor Oblong was offering a give away, Give away what? you interrupt, Not a lot to the likes of you, I admit, although he was being careful to avoid upsetting the voting oldies. But at least he gave away a few secrets, Giving away secrets? you interrupt again in incredulous voice, Yes, secrets, I continue, exposing himself in friendly fashion the day after on the BBC Today programme.

We must create new industries, Chancellor Oblong said on the BBC radio, We must create new industries not reliant on from consumer spending, we must create new industries a distance from supermarkets, and we must create away from London, create away from the capital city jungles and create away from the corporate HQ’s and bonus culture. And new industries, Chancellor Oblong added, We must create away from the public sector, (signalling of course the radical right’s continuing political agenda to maintin the destruction of the welfare state).

We must create around the train Lines, Chancellor Oblong announced more strangely,  We must create in the other great cities of our nation…  Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool… (I noticed Oblong’s vision of Ukania omitted Wales and Scotland but seemed to be attempting to echo the spirit of those robust nineteenth century traditional radicals such as Chamberlain, Cadbury et al). And I’ll tell you how, Oblong continued, By being creative we’ll keep progress and purpose are alive, let us create to be creative,  By being, Creative.

Oblong went on breathlessly to give his list. We must create creative media hubs, and creative money making schemes (“based on YouTube” he added), creative life sciences (cutting through all that tiresome moral and ethical red tape I thought), and of course we must create all those creative green technologies.

Which will add £400 to all our energy bills, the BBC interviewer finally managed to interupt Oblong’s shameless give away. But by then the misty isles’ grey and gloomy mist had descended even further over the air waves, and it was time for the News Circus to move on to the sports report (Cricket – England in a thrilling Test Match in New Zealand, another draw).

Mar 302013

Meanwhile after the continental shift of the hierarchy following the death of Hugo Chavez four weeks ago on March 5th -Our leader is never dead, los Pueblos Unidos announce – those of the left wishing to  lay claim to the radical tradition must now speak in Spanish. Think Latin America (ex-Europa). Consider the “Pink Tide” :

- 1998, Hugo Chavez (immortal.. or until 2030 at least), President  of Venezuela

- 2000, Ricardo Lagos (socialist), President of Chile

- 2002, Lula da Silva (centre left), President of Brazil… and his successor

… so that by 2009, 17 out of 20 of Latin America’s democratic republics left or centre-left (although these days Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia are back-peddling hard), and Argentina…

Republics of Hope: radical tradition and the space and rhetoric of Latin America. There are two strands of the strange overgrowth claiming to be ushering in happiness for its peoples, the new freedoms, the championing the poor, and the overthrowing of the old elitist patterns of culture and economic life; algae and jellyfish. The algae are the more productive strand of the radical left, pragmatic, technocratic, and social democratic (radical tradition) whose priority is to meet the social needs of los Pueblos Unidos and to provide economic stability. The aim and purpose of the more dangerous jellyfish is revolution, rooted in populism, continuing class struggle, and the distribution of land and hand-outs to the poor. By the $$$ measures of happiness  the algae appear to be being the more successful of the two strands  – but we wish to question the measuring instrument of happiness: as one Spanish speaking commentator put it, “Hope, a feeling of being listened to… you can’t put a dollar figure on that. It is a revolution of the mind”.

And hope in Argentina… as equivocal as us two naughties – los escualidos (a chavismo turn of phrase), the “squalid ones”- and the city of Buenos Aires… where cowds of earth spirit women (like LULU) stride the streets. And we also await how Papa Francesco will articulate the “Pink Tide”  at the Vatican. But is it not a strange coincidence that we spent so many months last year in the literary tragi-comedy and moral irony space and rhetoric in the pampas of Argentina on foot, horse and train, and in Buenos Aires (returning to the Villa Miserias of that city only recently)?

Mar 302013
tripe stew131

Spanish speaking: there is the further coincidence of the recent publication of the latest “Australian Novel” by JM Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus (Harvill Secker, 2013). It is a late style work, but unlike the Edward Said critical model of either pragmatic or revolutionary unresolved contradictions, it appears to travel across an altogether different continental (Australian… Or Argentinian) space and  rhetoric – “almost Buddhist” according to one reviewer.

The book describes a journey to a new world where everyone is required to speak Spanish and those who arrive are all exiles “washed clean of all memories”. They live in a city called Novilla (a Buenos Aires mix Nuevo and Nowhere). David, a young boy, is one such new arrival. He is taken in as an orphan and begins to display extraordinary, one might say non-human or divine, gifts.

But in the city of Novilla whose inhabitants are wiped clean of all memories, so that there is no record of Jesus Christ, no knowledge of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and indeed no history at all,  David’s behaviour is considered to be freakish. Fitting neither developmental model of either pragmatic or revolutionary progress, he is sent to a school for children with special educational needs (children in the autistic spectrum and so on). There Coetzee writes, “He searches for the irony but there is none, as there is no salt”.

One reviewer, noting Coetzee’s equation between the lack of irony and salt, finds the book too bland and flat, like travelling endlessly across a colourless and empty landscape towards an endlessly receding horizon. Like Pampas.

Mar 302013

Like an inhabitant of Novillas (or Buenos Aires), I have begun reading Jacqueline Rose, On Not Being Able to Sleep. In dialogic mode it was only a matter of time before I would begin doing so, but like an inhabitant of Novillas I have lost my memories of why I should have to. Somebody must have mentioned it in passing somewhere. I suppose. I only know I feel compelled.

At the beginning I note the inverted commas in the title to the Introduction: ‘Shame’ . ‘Signifying what?’ I wondered (equally in inverted commas), ‘Including us two naughties, and other literary devices, such as that all us men should be ashamed of ourselves and our history (if we hadn’t forgotten it all)’. Rose’s introduction gives the examples of the 1998 Australian ‘race’ election where the opposing parties competed in shameful exposure, and then all describes the similar process of the South African Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

I also began to think of the 1973 Commission set up in Buenos Aires 1973 under the chair of Ernesto Sabato to preside over the investigation of the fate of the 30,000 disappeared, and the further shameful exposures as/when the bodies buried on the Pamapas came to light (if they ever did).

When we speak our shame, Rose tells us to keep a triptych in mind: shame, disgust and guilt. And not to short circuit the process, stay alert in the tragi-comedy to the moral irony through the full 3 Acts of the opera:  the LULU (say) a free earth spirit woman. Stick with it Rose suggessts, and neither grasp at melancholy (self-abasement as a matter of pride), nor rash acts generally speaking (survival for as long as possible rather than suicide – if possible).

Ja-Was? Bild

 Posted by at 11:07 am  Exodus, OUT in the WILDERNESS, Tonite at the Coliseum  Comments Off
Mar 212013

“Yes What? Picture” is a 1920 work by the German artist Kurt Schwitters – a large painting in oil, cardboard and wood.  As if making a habit for myself, I stood in front of it again this morning for several minutes in Tate Britain, and to remind myself of the meaning of Merz: ‘denotes essentially the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials… a perambulator wheel, wire netting, string and cotton wool are factors having equal rights with paint . The artist creates through the choice, distribution, and metamorphosis of the materials’ Die Merzmalerie (1919, Article written by KS for Der Sturm magazine)… KS later adding elsewhere “deciding for the composition is the rhythm” (1940′s letter while in London).

I am on the clattering train from Waterloo to Southampton, and later tonight  I am going to a performance at the splendidly 1930′s soviet looking Mayflower Theatre building in that city by the sea: Alban Berg’s opera LULU (a brand new production by Welsh National Opera).

LULU – the greatest opera of the 20th Century (some say)!!! Based on an play called Earth Spirit by Frank Wedekind, it is a rise-and-fall story of a very lively/sexually active woman. Berg’s 12 tone radical music has a similar rise-and-fall symmetry, running backwards note for note towards the end in a wonderful  method of recapitulations: the perfect example of the modern coda – full of life – you might say.

Like Schwitter’s Merz work Berg’s music has also had to struggle hard to survive. Banned from Germany, the first performance of LULU was in Zurich in 1937, a few years after Berg’s death from blood poisoning (apparently following an insect bite). It was an incomplete work at that time, and following this performance his widow refused to allow the additional material  which Berg had written to be added to the score. So it was that only after her death over forty years later the premiere took place on 24th February 1979 at the Opera Garnier in Paris (even the BBC felt obliged to put it on prime time TV).

These two naughties were separated by a certain distance (as you advise naughties should always be): as for Schwitters (he neither fits the description of abstract artist or constructivist), “Citizen and Idiot” is how he called himself. Berg might well have used a similar description for himself.

Two naughties and lives of suffering? It was Samuel Beckett who in his study of Proust wrote: ‘The laws of memory are subject to the more general laws of habit. Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantor of  a dull inviolability, the lightning conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is a habit. Life is a habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals… the creation of the world did not take place once and for all, but takes place every day. Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The period of transition that separate consecutive adaptations (because by no expedient of macabre transubstantiation can the grave sheets serve as swaddling clothes) represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being’ (Proust and 3 Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. 1999)

The lives of suffering of those two naughties Schwitters and Berg whether under the jurisdiction of Satan or Christ: considering your description of the new Pope like a ‘Man of Steel’, this of course was also the name Stalin took for himself. The Russian writer Bulgakov would have also especially appreciated this irony, as well as the kindred ironies of artistic pain experienced by Schitters and Berg. And also have praised their spiritual courage. And wished them the peace to be given to any Master.

But for Papa Francesco it is too early to say how the habits of his new clothes and vestments will recreate the habits of the man, or (as Bulgakov would have put it) his spiritual courage.

Mar 212013
Wedekind mit LULU131

‘They stood perplexed in top hats
As if around the carcass of a vulture.
Bewildered crows.
And though they (sweating tears) tried hard,
They couldn’t bury this juggler.’

(From the diary of Bertolt Brecht after Wedekind’s funeral at Waldfriedhof cemetry in Munich): an echo of Oswald von Wolkenstein

Papa Francesco

 Posted by at 11:14 am  Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
Mar 152013



photo-2Habemus papam! I don’t know about two naughties. But I guess that you having just been wrapped up in nappies for the last two weeks, naughties just about gets to the point. Naughties must be those little tykes that get to sit on the naughty step. Not together either. Separately. Two steps at least fifty metres apart. Talking back to their betters probably. What would Papa Francesco have to say to them? A long lecture in Latin perhaps. Or a bus ride over the Roman cobbles. Mind you we have to be a little careful about priests and children these days. Meanwhile Jon Snow of Channel 4 news fame waxes enthusiastically about the new pope – see @jonsnowC4 blogs:  -  and Lizzie Davies from the Guardian tweeted: Vatican confirms that Pope Francis said to the cardinals, gathered for dinner, may God forgive you for what you have done. It is not exactly clear what he intended by this remark. What came to my mind was, firstly, some reference to the accumulated issues facing the church and then, secondly, having voted him in as pope, this pope dragged in from the ends of the earth, as he put it, to come and sort out the mess.

Like a man of steel. Maybe even stainless steel. He champions the poor, lives a life of humility, but could he have done more to counter the ‘dirty’ war of thirty years ago. Do we have a longing for superman to come and rescue us? A father who is not fatally suspect? But how is the Church to bring women into the picture; women as militant angels? Or simply how does the Church respect it’s own traditions and at the same time embrace the thinking around equality. Not all modernism should be rejected. The Church already possesses a social teaching which provides the ground for resistance to the excessive depredations of consumer capitalism with its ideology of rampant individualism but on the other hand the issue of individual human rights is never going to be stuffed back into the bottle from which it was liberated in 1948. Added to which there is considerable spadework to do in relation to the complexity of human sexuality. Complex and messy.

What a lot of work there is to do. Where are the two imps? Still on the naughty step or have they sneaked off, run off to the nightlife down by the docks. Chancers. We used to call them ne’er do wells. Off to Naples to try their luck. Living dangerously even as they advance into the peculiar territory that is growing old.

Burn Suffering

 Posted by at 11:44 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Catastrophe Games, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Mar 142013
Vagrants 1929 by August Sander 1876-1964

A story of two naughties: deep in the Coda, and near to the end of the Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece (1928-1940) The Master and Margarita, the two vagabonds Kiroviev and Behemoth, the former also being known as  the Faggot, and the latter who is a dialectally hyper-active walking and talking large black cat, turn up at the ‘house of Grobodoev’s aunt’ in the city of Moscow. The elegant town house is home to all the leading literary and publishing stars of the Russian cultural firmament, who come to dine there at the exclusive restaurant located on the house’s veranda. The special and exclusive restaurant provides valuta, what passes in the Russia of the time for ‘real value’ (“valuta shops, valuta restaurants, valuta arrests, valuta tortures, valuta whores: just a few dimensions of that inexhaustable word” Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, 1937 – as quoted in John Gray’s, The Silence of Animals: on Progress and Other Myths, 2013).

Kiroviev and Behemoth (both alike ‘impish figures who always loved verbal swordthrusts’) attempt to enter the valuta restaurant, but a woman ‘citizeness’ who is in charge of the seating bars their way (‘a pale and bored citizeness in white socks and a white beret with a rib sat on a Viennes chair at the corner entrance to the veranda’):
‘You’re writers?’ the citizeness asked.
‘Unquestionably’, Kiroviev answered with dignity.
‘Your identification cards?’ the citizeness asked in turn.
‘My sweetie…’ Kiroviev began tenderly.
‘I’m no sweetie”, interrupted the citizeness.
‘More’s the pity’, Kiroviev said disappointedly.

However, with their unquenchable comic powers that constantly flourish in the shadows (‘shadows are cast by objects and people’, their commander Messire Woland later observes) the two naughties achieve easy access and sit themselves at a table. Only the restaurant manager, Archibald Archibaldov, an intense eyed pirate/saddhu type, spots the real demonic identities of Kiroviev and Behemoth (their chief Messire Wolland is in fact Satan) and hurries to bring them the best fare the restaurant has to offer recognising that the arrival of retribution upon this valuta restaurant  is imminent.  But to no avail the veranda is soon torched by the two naughties, only Archibalovich making his escape in time before the house and all its literary occupants are reduced to ash.

Ah, like Kiroviev and Behemoth, are we not also a tale of two naughties? And if only we could tell the difference between the powers of good and evil as clearly as Archibaldovich! But we are profoundly confused by our western ideas of progress and purpose (this is the main thrust of John Gray’s argument at any rate… whether he also quotes from Bulgakov I don’t know yet as I’ve only reached page 50). ‘Burn Suffering’ Messire Woland says after this incident at the house of Grobodiev’s aunt, expressing a wisdom in the spirit of evil whose presence is not to indifferently afflict humanity, or fight against good, but, when and wherever it arises, simply to consume itself.