May 282013

But you need to be patient with me. I’ll get there, in fact the novel has already started, we are all, so to speak, in the middle of it, you just haven’t noticed yet.

A bird is singing out of your ear, and if you were to look up and to the left for a moment you would see that it is there sitting on a small branch. It is a pale breasted bird and appears to be wearing a small red felt hat. It is probably the Owl of Minerva, or pretending to be. You can pretend too.

Look up further. The old tree you are sitting against is filled with many more birds and if you care to listen you will quickly find that they are all also singing. In fact the air is filled with song, and they are exotic songs which are not commonly heard in these shadowy, cold lands of the north. Shimmers of sound, it is a matter of fact. Look around and you could make another list of all the animals around you if you cared to. Some are wild and some domestic, chickens from the local farm, as well as lions and a rhinocerus from Africa. You appear to have charmed them all with your notes. That is the idea isn’t it? Songs.

Notations. Catalogues. The strings of your harp are also of a precise number, and tuned to an exact pitch: as I’ve had reason to say before and on more than one occasion, the musical component comes first – rhythm, balance, measure.

You could list these separately if you wanted to, and discover all the harmonies which each ‘scene’ makes. Go on pretending. And the tuning can be changed to suit the mood. We may begin happy, or sad if you prefer, whichever is proper to your situation. Sometimes it is a playful scene. Sometimes it is violent and horrific. There and back, it is of vital interest.

So when to charm open the Gates of Hell you must face first down the Furies: follow the score here – sung by a female contralto these days (I was fortunate to hear Janet Baker in one of her last performances). Keep pretending. Watch, or rather hear, the beautiful patterns of Gluck’s notations along the lines of music and the rhythms – or ‘feet’ as they are properly called. The notations, the catalogues, as your eye runs along with them, although if you prefer you could just as well call them lists . Here is a 10 minute YouTube clip of Janet Baker singing Orfeo (which includes a WWF ad to ‘Save the Rhino’ as well as the famous 1990′s staging of the Furies at the Gates of Hell). The demons love their mathematical regularities – “No!… No!!… NO!!!” : HE of course is captured, and the Furies are simultaneously captivated by what they hear. Isn’t that the point? Time no longer.

Time no longer, and my life is too short: these days the musical components seem to work better listening to Oliver Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps. I can’t go any faster, my work is a cathedral and I need a long time, centuries. And how much longer do I have?

(The Beginning and ending above include lines from ‘From an Unfinished Novel’, some draft material abandoned by Nescio and never completed: see Amsterdam Stories P121-122)

Ahhhhh Pedro

 Posted by at 12:21 pm  Fundamental Perversions  Comments Off
May 242013


Ahhhhh Pedro, what do I see here? Lists! Have you gone mad? Have you had your monthly check-up? Is it hormonal? Have you stopped taking the medication? You describe yourself as an older man; what does that mean? Get yourself booked in for a total blood transfusion in one of these new-fangled private clinics, they will eager to fit you in as an emergency once they see the colour of the gold you’ve got stashed away in your voluminous pockets even though you look like something the cat dragged in from the gutters of Babylon.

Now we are entering this post-post-modern age the excitement is mounting. These ages are spinning faster and faster. Sleep has become a thing of the past. As you are so fond of saying, who the hell has the time to sleep. The thing to do is to cram three lives into one. Minimum. Preferably five or six. But as your grandfather used to say as the family sat by the fireside on a Sunday evening, you have to start somewhere. He was a prophet – they don’t make them like that any more.

By the way, do you know the name of the prime minister? I was just wondering, no need to get agitated. These prime ministers come and go, how can anybody keep up with their names. You’re quite right. You can put the knife away. Relax. I put it down to this post-post-modern thing. I do believe this is going to be one hell of a ride. Thrilling, for sure but we might find the ride has been dismantled half way round. Yeah, you’re right again. That would be very funny.

But before we turn to post-post-modernism proper, let us take a moment to reflect, let us dive back into history. By the way, you do believe in history, don’t you? I’m fairly certain you do, but there was a minor flurry of anxiety when I wrote the word history – can any of us trust anything at all except the present moment. Some years ago we thought Be Here Now the very height of wisdom, then it wasn’t long before we got properly stuck into history, having babies by the dozen, divorcing, starting new relationships which never really worked, but the treadmill moved on and we had to keep climbing and of course we got precisely nowhere. That’s what I like: a moment of precision, a moment of knowing exactly what we are talking about, confident of the impeccable accuracy of our words.

By the way, how are the cats?

I think we might well need to take a complete sexual history. Are you sitting comfortably then let us begin ummm at the beginning.

May 222013

Judged by the tenor of the rumbling sounds coming from downstairs it appears His Lordship is fast asleep. I know it wont last, but while HE is in this state I have been getting up to a bit of mischief: I’ve begun to concoct a series of awesome lists (see below).

Please feel free to create more lists. So far disgraceful self-interest  has led me to focus mostly along gender and ageing lines (ie as an older man). Plus add as many items as you like to the lists (you’ll see that I’ve not got very far with any of them).

“Awesome Lists for Ageing Men (and Women)”:

10 Places to make brilliant connections

1. Meet Up

2. the Amazings

+ 10 Ways to Step Up and Step Out:

1. Go to Sainsburys and don’t buy anything

2. Go to any supermarket with a gas primer and some cooking things… and cook a meal for everyone (they do this in France – it is called decroissance)

 + 10 Ways to stop feeling sorry for ourselves:

1. Dress like Ali – see ‘What Ali Wore’


(for the Women) 10 Ways to give you back Healthier, Happier Men:

1. Sign him up for Laughter Yoga

2. Indulge his romantic fantasies… (Up to a point… keep the dog between you if worried!)

Naughty Lists

10 Ways to let rip:

1. Fart on the London underground (down escalator)

(etc… EDITOR: I feel there are many more Naughty Lists to be written)

‘Donut List’: 10 Donuts NOT to end up with
1. Donut cushion for bleeding piles

2. Isolation donuts

‘Poke in the Eye’ Lists

10 things older men WILL NOT PUT UP WITH:

1. Being thought of as ‘dirty old men’

+ 10 Kinds of ‘Elders’ to avoid:

1. Judgemental phonies

2. Patriarchs and pussywhips

3. Church elders (mostly)

(etc, etc…)

MAKE MORE LISTS! After all THIS (being older) is the AGE to get away with it ALL (at least until HE wakes up)! Laugh out loud (as they say in social media speak), or as loudly as you like, because I am told that when HE sleeps he sleeps deeply

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another series of hopefully equally disgraceful  Death-in-Life Lists are also in preparation.

Orpheus and Emblematic Modernism

 Posted by at 1:56 pm  Echo Effects, Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
May 222013
Orpheus Verona072 (Small)

Nescio – Amsterdam Stories (LRB review 23 May 2013) : Fritz Gronloh (1881 – 1961) is added to the Wordstall pantheon:

… along with emblematic modernists such as

Van Gogh, Pessoa, and especially… (given their similar office lives spent in 3-piece business suits with crisp white handkerchiefs in their breast pockets)
Wallace Stevens.

I am looking forward to reading the translation from the unreliable text of the Netherlands (their written language being apparently under constant review). The painting of Orpheus which made such a lasting impression on me may well have been painted in the Low Countries too – the northern style and novelistic detail suggests. The painting is to be found at the far end of the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona on one of the false floors constructed there within the castle, and, I don’t know why, I too find in my desire to read Gronloh’s text a sense of the end of Orpheus: the choice between being headless or bodyless.

I greatly desired some olives

 Posted by at 5:13 pm  Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
May 192013



But on the margins of the market Pedro Paramo skulked, half hidden by a fly-blown full length mirror propped against some cardboard boxes that bulged with an assortment of old clothes, hippy cast-offs from 1971, that time when we had begun to realise something: the writing was on the wall, the die cast, the runes scratched on rocks scattered across the more desolate parts of Dartmoor. The only problem was that few of us could discern these signs, unpack them, interpret the tea leaves. Those who could kept quiet and prepared for what they knew was coming. Most of us, of course, were held by the sharp claws of our illusions, our hopes dated 1966. And this was prior to these helpful little labels that informed us as to when we should throw the contents away. Best before 1970.

What was he doing there? Hoping that nobody would recognise him? ‘Like Orpheus, he too had descended to the land of the shades, and then done what no beast has until now had the permission to do: return to the living present.’ (Don Paterson – Orpheus). I spoke quietly, corner of the mouth job, I know you . . . the air thickened around him, edges blurred. I wondered about the sort of violence that could be perpetrated by ghosts. The difference between him and Orpheus was that he was dead and Orpheus was very much alive, singing and his fingers skimming across the strings of his lyre at full speed. Did Paramo know that he was dead? But then do any of us know? There is that old conundrum that slips like silk across our minds after a few drinks in the evening sitting slumped in front of a dying fire: what if I’m already dead? In need of a steadying hand as we wobble in the thickening darkness, the maudlin becomes deep and meaningful. What is that shadow that comes to sit beside us. Paramo’s mind is all that’s left, but there remains a certain potentiality that at times can actually attain form and we remember him as he was in his prime: the arrogant bastard, fond of his minions giving his enemies a kicking, as he took what he wanted of land and money and women.

What do you mean, interested in death, interested in dying. There will be time for that in due course. Paramo will be there to give you a lesson in the art of dying. Though, maybe you are right: there are some details we need to get sorted out, practical things, order the coffin, get the will sorted out. The shock of the decades passing, the shock of still being alive. How does it all work? Paramo’s been dead for a century or more and his anger has not diminished, his fingers claw at my heart, I laugh in his face, but I must admit the laugh sounds a bit hollow to me. He eyes me, drooling, loops of blood tangled mucous trail from his blackened lips.

Man Under Interrogation

 Posted by at 9:30 am  Catastrophe Games, IN Conversation  Comments Off
May 152013

There are the accepted norms for conducting these kind of things, and before we proceed to the thumb screws, we’ll begin by asking you kindly. Please tell us everything that you know. Make it easy on yourself because in the end you know that you’ll have to talk.

It’s us asking the questions, and the man is sitting naked under the spotlight in the centre of the room. He begins talking. He talks freely in fact, switching positions and telling it from a second point of view, and then a third. In triplicate – there is no shortage of words. Talkback.

It’s the stenographer’s fault in our opinion. They have the job of recording everything that is said, and it is our belief that they made a mistake. It is easily done after all when the words are coming at you from three directions at the same time. We know. They shouldn’t have left the blank in the middle of that word : Bus-ness. Was it Business, or Busyness?

There will be an official inquiry of course and the proper procedures will be followed. We will have made up our minds anyway by that time. let’s face it, we made up our minds long ago didn’t we? Judgements were passed, and, as we like to put it, the man condemns himself to remain until further notice within the confines of the prison of his own making.

You could say that Homer was a stenographer too, and some are actually of the opinion that he was more than one – and so in a way like us. Because at this point for some reason I am reminded of the last conversation between Odysseus and Achilles.  It is the one recorded in one of the later books of the Odyssey. Achilles has been dead for several years, and Odysseus has journeyed to the ends of the earth to have a final conversation with him – to “go in”.

What’s it like in the Underworld?, the wily trickster asks him – adept at the ‘Cunning Method’ he can travel across the barrier into the world of shades. We are all dying to know, he continues. Achilles isn’t looking happy. In fact he’s looking downright miserable. Bus-ness as usual, he replies.

Under interrogation his body is naked, and still strangely attractive, retaining its sinuously threatening beauty and a devastating sexual allure. From the killing machine perspective, it is indeed still bus-ness as usual. He prefers to think he is immortal. It is only from the other perspectives that the hellish frustrations arise to thwart his pride because down in the Underworld there’s nobody around left living for him to biff about or rape.

Bus-ness as usual, with more than a hint of irony – triple agony. At the end of their chat there’s a moment when Odysseus pauses, wondering whether he should ask Achilles if he would like to come back with him and rejoin the living. Or am I making this part up?

But How – how can somebody be rescued from himself? Odysseus thinks to himself. No, I don’t think I can ask him back, he continues, doubling his voice and listening to his own talkback. I think it needs a woman’s voice, he says out loud. One generous and strong enough and with a righteous anger to begin this slow process of evolution, he thinks later, but by this time he is outside again, and helping himself to a cup of coffee.

(Note: includes a phrase or two from Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas)

May 152013
Kiosk 28, Assos

I am slowly absorbing a poem which arrived in my inbox last Friday:

‘Evolution’ by Jorie Graham.


One’s nakedness is very slow.

One calls to it, one wastes one’s sympathy.

Comparison, too, is very slow.

Where is the past?

I sense that we should keep this coming.

Something like joy rivulets along the sand.

I insists that we “go in.” We go in.

One cannot keep all of it. What is enough

of it. And keep?-I am being swept away-

what is keep? A waking good.

Visibility blocking the view.

Although we associate the manifest with kindness.

The way it goes where it goes, slight downslope.

Like the word “suddenly,” the incline it causes.

Also the eye’s wild joy sucked down the slope the minutes wave by wave

pack down and slick.

The journey-some journey-visits one.

The journey-some journey-visits me.

Then this downslope once again.

And how it makes what happens

always more heavily

laden, this self only able to sink (albeit also lifting

as in a

sudden draught) into the future. Our future. Where everyone

is patient. Where all the sentences come to complete themselves.

Where what wants to be human still won’t show

its face.

(from The Taken Down God by Jorie Graham, published this month by Carcanet.)

May 152013

I read that there have already been several reviews of the book  Middle C by William Gass (2013, 416 pp), including the ones by Cynthia Ozick in the New York Times, and Michael Gorra in the New York Review of Books. But I confess, I’ve only read the one by Seth Colter Walls in the latest LRB (9 May 2013). At the end of this review it is recorded that during an interrogation in 1978 Gass was accused by the writer John Gardner that his novels were like jumbo jets, “too encrusted with gold to get off the ground.” Gass replied, “There is always that danger. But what I really want is to have it sit there solid as a rock and have everybody think it is flying.”

18 years to make a rock? I am doubtful of the necromancing topography here, and my feeling is that I wont be tempted to “go in” and invest the effort and anxieties (“I write because I hate” WG) to journey through the shady sorcery of Middle C. I am in any case already engrossed in Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas (2005, tr 2011), and will be for some time, travelling on the iron rails which crisscross the enormous territory of  twentieth century Hungary (the book is a thumping 1133 pp). The back cover says it took Nadas 15 years to write, and then the translator 4 more years. It will likely be his last work – like Gass – as both writers are now old men.