Jul 312013
Guest Kiosk 7, Karakoy

It is the M25, anticlockwise, and you and I are on our way back from the zone. Time is on our hands:

A. ‘Fog‘ is a new essay by Franco Moretti (NLR 81, May/June 2013, P 59-92).
- drawn from The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature, in parallel with his companion work Distant Reading(Verso 2013).

“For exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London and New York 2012 P 37).

The bourgeois modernising world when the nature of social relations… previously concealed by a variety of deceptions: ‘idylls’, ‘veils’, ‘ecstacies’, ‘enthusiasms’, ‘holies’, ‘fervours’, ‘sentimentalisms’, and ‘prejudices’… are stripped away. You and I are bending over backwards to uncover the naked, shameless and direct through:

1. Negotiation
She is actually working, Moretti emphasises looking at the ‘not unless you pay’ nakedness of Olympia by Edouard Manet’s (1863). Her left hand is placed across her genitalia… Previously she hid nothing because there was nothing to hide or that required hiding.

2. Me and My Woman (or My Man)
Another nineteenth century English artist wants to paint a naked woman, but he recoils from doing so. Instead he narratives her nudity: if the woman is without clothes, it is because she has been caught in a story of aggression, resistance, captivity – with rape and death to follow if it were not for the moral economy of her rescuer, a perfect gentleman.

3. Turning a Blind Eye to ‘unspeakable rites’
‘Glencreepie Castle’, where I was taken in the summer months as a child, and where I sometime return to in my dreams: it is a fantasyland of sprouting of turrets and tabernacles which is hard to describe, and Moretti points out a similar new and slippery way that authority found to claim and exercise power through a combination of ‘weaker bourgeois identity – and stronger social control’.

4. Vague Absurdities
Monocled, monologic, and monotonous but earnest men – men also beyond redemption – it is tantalising: the veil is half raised but then drops again suddenly, putting off the discovery of any possibility of a truth being uncovered (… say… the truth of the shrunken skulls of imperialism – “The inner truth is hidden – luckily, luckily,” concludes Marlow in Heart of Darkness).

B. ‘Implements in Their Place‘ is a collection of poems by WS Graham, first published in 1977. It is also the name of a long 74 section poem in the collection (New Collected Poems P. 240-257).

Some critics, not recognising the self-organising process involved, have condemned the poem as being too much like “talking out loud” – equally not recognising the continuing long conversation between you and I:

Somewhere our belonging particles
Believe in us. If we could only find them.

Who calls? Don’t fool me. Is it you
Or me or us in a faulty duet
Singing out of a glade in a wood
Which we would never really enter?

Do not think you have to say
Anything back. But you do
Say something back which I
Hear by the way I speak to you.

Somewhere our belonging particles
Believe in us. If we could only find them.

Jul 262013



Breaking news . . . wow this is so exciting . . . I don’t know where to start but I have just this minute received the call from our sponsors: the new research project is to go ahead. What is it, you ask. An obvious question, nothing less than what I expected and just as predictably I cannot say anything about it. Yeah, I know, why announce it when I can’t give any details! But this is the way it works. Maybe the trouble is that I’m too excited and I want to burble on about it. The thing is, they said to me, yes you can announce it but no details. That’s the deal! Fair enough, I said. But then when I thought about I did feel a twinge of disappointment.

Is this always the way with sponsors? They like to keep some control of events? Some control? Total control? Control the flow of information?

There we are! Shrug of shoulders, grind of teeth: always caught between acceptance and rage.

So we meet and we start from scratch and you say: it’s a long conversation. And there are some points to remember:

1)    It’s about you and me – some 21st century take on Martin Buber’s great work mixed in with social representation theory.

2)    It goes all the effing time! And much of it so obvious, self evident, that we might die of embarrassment.

3)    It does help to have a deadline.

4)    And it is certainly necessary to have a production process and timetable (like any other business – is this a business? No, probably not. What is it then? I told you I can’t give any details. Do you actually know anything about it? Can I leave that question for the time being.)

5)    There is a voice that comes in, breaks in one might say: what we are doing, the voice has great authority, as though the person behind the voice really does know what they are talking about, what we are doing is research, and, as we said (get it! Get the ‘we’) at the beginning the grant has been awarded.

The old bastard on the street announces that the distance to hell is the same wherever you are. He gives a bit of a cackle. But, I’m not going to whisper this to him (he tends not to listen anyway) but that means that heaven is also the same distance from wherever we are. Although if we are not interested in either of those categories then, I guess, we just get on with getting by.

And another thought: what will happen when all the millions in the good ol’ US of A discover that socialism is a good thing. That will be very interesting.

Ahhh those mountains of flesh . . .

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Jul 202013

KEN_0513_ 0004

Big men, big women, fleshy joyous creatures, always laughing, well maybe not always laughing, but full of their success and proud in a fleshy sort of way. The joy of the flesh. The pleasure of the flesh. Is there no end to it? Fleshed out – too much flesh for your own good. To flesh out, to flesh in, to portray the lineaments, to make clear the pain and crises of a long life. Big men, big women – they make a big splash, don’t they! They parade out on flat feet to the edge of the pool and jump; the two or three swimmers in the pool bob up and down, the water floods over the edge, soaking a towel or two and causing a frown or two amongst the sun-worshippers. Oh my God. It’s tempting to pretend that nothing has happened. Get on with the knitting. Read the paper. Turn the page of the novel. We’re on holiday. Look at the size of those two.

The question is, this questions hovers in the air, twisting trying to maintain some semblance of form: is this Dr Bomboka and his good woman. Floating mountains, side by side, on their backs, engaging in intense discussions concerning the likelihood of David Cameron being a real person and not the crazed vision of some Australian huckster.

Actually there might well be a further question at this point: what does it do to a person to be surrounded by money and power and at the same time to be morally craven and craving ever more money and power. What does it do? What is the process? Could you tell me Dr Bomboka? No, sorry he’s much too busy. Years of Yale and Oxford and Lacanian analysis has done it for him. If the stories are to be believed (and it has to be stated quite clearly that none of these stories have any reliability – they have built in unreliability, rather like political parties which we believed ought to be based in some real world only to discover and rediscover in some endless cycle of disillusionment that they merely make it up as they go along).

Dr Bomboka, Dr Bomboka could I ask you a question? Sorry to break into your conversation.

I’ve swum out and am bobbing up and down like a miniscule plastic duck, a yellow one, next to these big important people.

Were you, how can I put it, were you big, I mean not so much physically, more socially, were you important . . . and your  wife, do you prefer partner, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to upset you, just that I was curious about the sort of status that you were born into. Back in the old country. I don’t know exactly what country it was but I understand it was . . . somewhere in Africa . . . OK . . . perhaps we could talk later. I know, I know you’re discussing important stuff.

You see how it goes! Fleshing out can be a dangerous project. How much do we know about anybody? Even those we live with. No wonder the security services like to have everybody on their radar screens. You never know.

Jul 162013

Something was missing that is for sure… when you said a photograph was supposed to be there: a dark room image enters and (joining Dr Bobomka? Who knows…) slides into a corner lurking in the shadows of the long conversation.

One day the world may thank you and I for continuing to struggle with these ‘Difficult Communications’. How come difficult?  Researchers of what are called  ”socially situated interactions” commonly apply the difficult word to situations where one or other or several of those involved in a conversation are apparently or actually disadvantaged in one way or another. It could be that some or all of us are deaf or dumb. Or simply more like us trying to communicate with each other, it could be we are wrestling with the dumb technology of the blogosphere.

For shared understanding to take place, social representation theory researchers argue that these disadvantages make communications difficult and result in every speaker having to project meaning through more than their voice, and every listener having to reach share understanding through more than their ears. The deaf and dumb may use their hands to communicate, or writhe, grimace and mouth words. Then there is also the keyboard on which words can be written – like here. And images and drawings and so on. How porous all shared understanding becomes as meaning leaks across the boundaries of our physical bodies and minds, shared space, and those of culture and history!

Of course it is complex – and objects are more about interdependence than identity. Back to the deal about ‘Appiness. You are right, as an object there is more to it than money and sex, ‘tho both those also have the dynamic qualities to place us on the spectrum between the polar extremes of Happiness and Misery. That is where the cheeky-chappy ‘Appiness resides: somewhere in between, freeze dried from time to time as it were so we can catch a glimpse of ‘im, like in these periodic communications as well.

From the position of epistemic trust in the shadows the impartial Dr Bobomka gives a little cough. I am told that he has many influential continental friends… among whom:

Ivana Markova and for useful introduction on Dialogue and Dilaogicity (2013 Interview)
Serge Moscovici
Mikhail Bakhtin

“For a human being there is nothing more terrible than a lack of response” (MB)

Can you see the glint of an eye?

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Jul 142013

There was supposed to be a photograph inserted here . . . but my relationship with technology being rather hit and miss it refused to upload so imagine if you can a narrow street with an arch high up and a window through which I thought I caught a glimpse of Dr Bomboka.

Imagine the glint of an eye amidst the reflections. I can. Or at least I thought I could. Or did he disappear between the sighting and taking the photograph. I was quick but maybe not that quick. Yes, you know who I mean – Dr ‘appiness Bomboka himself. Cornered. Chased down through the narrow streets. My numerous agents at last had been persuaded to get their fat bums off the bar stools by the promise of bigger rewards. A pay rise! Why not? I know it’s against current economic thinking unless of course you are at the top of the tree rather than labouring away in the lower branches, let alone at the bottom. Well, if you’re unlucky enough to be scrabbling around in the dust then . . . what can you say? God help you. Look, here’s our very own multi-headed Cerberus, slavering thick threads of greenish hued mucous, from their over-privileged jaws. Come here, Gove, good boy, there’s a good boy. He does enjoy a good view of others’ suffering. If he gets a good run at it he’ll have children being beaten in all the schools any time soon. Oh and there’s Osborne just woken up, he’s nodding away, that big inane grin on his pasty face. And where’s Cameron you ask? Umm yep there he is, chasing that bum in the air as usual. You’ve got to admire him haven’t you; he’s such a little tryer. Who are those other men there? Heavily built, double-breasted suits, shades? What’s that you say? Lobbyists. Ok that’s a relief, I thought for a moment they were gangsters, you know, mafia enforcers. Gentlemen from the Camorra. Don’t let us mention once more the ‘Ndrangheta.

Their only desire is for us to be addicted to whatever they are selling.

But let’s get back to the stuff or our discussion: ‘appiness, you call it. Did I read you correctly? It’s all about sex and money? You could be right. But my mind swerves off in another direction. What about the old chestnut of identity? The question that Alex McSalmon has forced those of us who don’t happen to live in Scotland to think about is, what exactly does it mean to be English? Gove Fascism? Is Englishness merely what happened when through a long series of cock-ups and accidents there appeared something that became known as the Empire – sometimes British but never English. I suppose the sleight of hand was to involve God and the classical world . . . abracadbra! Look isn’t it wonderful, and, now you come to mention it, well deserved.

Dr Bomboka, Mr ‘Appiness where are you? Why are you skulking in the shadows? Aren’t I worthy of your attention? When were those moments of ‘appiness? The thought of a possible answer or at least a response, a preliminary tentative response is that there were some joined up moments in which my identity was not questioned. I was not condemned to being in the wrong place at the wrong time and come to that being the wrong person. Three wrongs make a dark seething brew of some foul smelling broth. Here drink this. Can you see the smile on his face. ‘Appiness is when we luxuriate in taking ourselves for granted.

The Issue is Happiness (Part 204)

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Jul 102013
Guest Kiosk

Like Scozia, Africa is also far away. But sometimes there is no alternative and we have to go there in order to meet somebody we have to face-to-face because, you are absolutely right, email, social media, text, mobile, or Skype won’t do.

Think back to Scipio Africanus and the glories of Rome: first stop Carthage, then on to Libya, Egypt and Abyssinia. I remember when I was also face to face with the relics of Mussolini’s more recent Italian imperial dreams. It was not so long ago – a meeting with the fanciful archaeological reconstructions of the imperial baths in the great imperial city of Leptus Magna, the ruins being exposed from under the centuries of sand on the Libyan coast. In other words on this occasion it was a fascist deal.

Or think of dealing with Dr Bobomka!

The deal? It is never just about the money, although of course the price also matters. Of course it does, but  truly said the money is mostly about good manners. Whether in the souk in one of the cities of Mahgreb or on the west coast of Scotland, it is the business of showing mutual respect. Haggle over the deal because, buyer or seller, you and I are coming from strangely different positions. That is what the conversation is for – a long conversation by the way.

A Long Conversation… reading Adrienne Rich Later Poems, I’ve reached the years 1997-98, that being the dateline for a long poem (P53-69 in Midnight Salvage) with that name at its title, including these lines:
“…pierced, jammed, scratched out.
bans, preventive detention, broken mouths,
and on the scoured bench sequestered
a human creature with bloody wings
its private parts
still trying to speak…” (P. 58)

If you still don’t believe me, just ask yourself what is the money for. The money is for more than for buying a few overpriced ice creams at a top table restaurant, or a week at a seven star palace in an exclusive resort. Don’t be lazy about money! Be bold, because you too are here to do the deal with someone (maybe this time it is with Dr Bobomka himself)! If you can’t understand that, like the proverbial jackpot Lottery Prize winner you’ll be rags to riches, and, just deserts, quickly back to rags in a trice.

Take heed of the warning, if there isn’t a real story behind the deal, the money soon runs out. Valeria Ugazio talks about the “semantic possibilities” – but it is more graspable if we call them  ‘Permitted Stories, Banned Stories’, as her book (2012) is titled in Italian. For the deal to work there is always a formation of mind involved Valeria explains. For instance, at Leptis Magna where the fascist Italian archaeologist worked in the 1930,s – or for Scipio Africanus millenia before – the preferred story is one of power.

For others the deal is about Freedom. This is my preferred construction as it happens, and where many of my real stories are to be found. You’ll have noticed I expect and that I’ve been exploring the polar opposites of freedom: courage/boldness, cowardice/timidity. “Contraries [… ] are yet the life of one another” (says Sir Thomas Browne, Pseudoxia (1646)) . Valeria Ugazio quotes Sir Thomas in her work which explores four different co-positions of person to person, face-to-face meetings, the strangeness of our conversations with somebody who is neither totally honest nor a liar, and the both terrifying and beautiful struggle to overcome our differences.

And remember in the deal: Since you are still trying to speak…

… the issue still is Happiness

At least I kept my return ticket

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Jul 062013



The month in Florence is down to its last few days. Dr Bomboka who I was assured had been in Venice where I endeavoured to locate him and interview him for this review, has, it seems completely disappeared. Did or does he even exist? How close is Africa? The word on the street is that it is getting closer. We don’t know who is going to eat Europe but there is enough hunger in the world and it would seem that a large chunk of that hunger has been created by Europe itself, as drunk with dreams of power it set out to eat the rest of the world, particularly if there appeared shiny bits of gold to be had. Or potatoes. Or tomatoes. Or chillies. Or slaves. Because.

Well. Negotiating the deal. Here’s the thing. I have to remind myself or tell myself the story of why it is a good thing to make money. Hey! Why can’t I live without making money? Silly idea. Though it seems at times too hard to be bothered with the whole senselessness of it. Dr. Bomboka promised me riches. Well. I think he did. And it seemed to me that what he was telling me was that there was just gargantuan, huge amounts of wealth – gold and rare gems, currency US dollars, sterling, euros, whatever I could dream of, about to fall into my lap whether I wanted it or not. Crazy, huh! But, here’s the thing. I had to meet him. In person. No Skype calls. No lawyer intermediaries. Person to person. Eyeball to eyeball. Friends warned me but I thought, well what the hell, what have I got to lose, I can’t be any worse off. The last bit was way off course, of course. Of course I am now worse off, scraping the barrel. Here’s the thing, if you’re about to become filthy rich what’s the point of being a skinflint about things. Why travel second class when first class is there for the asking. Why go to a cheap restaurant when a world class chef is performing just round the corner. Who wants to stay in some two star filthy hotel when the doorman is opening the door for me at the five star hotel in which I  have booked a room for a couple of weeks. Only two weeks, surely that’s not too much to ask is it. I mean it’s not as though I’m greedy.

At least I kept my return ticket even if it is on easyJet.

But look, it was worth every penny. I think it was. I know what you’re thinking: wait until it gets to the belt tightening bit. The enforced dieting. Not just the 5:2 diet but the hopefully 500 calories a day diet. The what can I sell now daily question. How much will you give me for that table? Is that all? I paid three times that thirty years ago.

Maybe I’ll find some fisherman to take me across to Africa. I’ll make out that I’m an experienced seaman with all the relevant paperwork.

Yeah. It might just work.

Jul 032013
Sun of Venice... Copy of Turner131

I‘ve been lurking in shadows this week, Malcolm said, naming his growing  indifference and irritability – “blacker and denser it is” (after Carl Jung) the less we embody it.

Boldness helps to spread encouragement, I thought, and free things up. And simultaneously lurking in the shadows the less I embody it, equally paralysed – frozen feelings, timidity, unable to breath.

Passionate champions like Malcolm: he just can’t stop struggling with the question of how we can make a difference – wrestling with how to bring about change. Then later – Most of us would rather not get involved, he said beginning to showing his annoyance. The next day when we met again Malcolm lost his temper.

Splitting us up as “good guys” or “bad guys”, we all have our primary storylines. Like men of boldness and paralysis commonly do, at times I feel far away. Or the other guy I was staying with, constantly intoxicated by desire for a woman’s love, the lurking shadow of aloneness in a house of cool colours.

Far away, incessant airport music in my ears I am heading back – in Glasgow Airport Departures heading back from Scotland after a couple of busy days. Day one I put the deal on the table and to begin with we seemed to be making progress. Boldness and I noticed myself liking Malcolm’s champion passion as we faced each other. Visibly relaxed, and easier to breath.

Then she came into the room.

She’s the one I have to sleep with at night, he joked. Disembodied, a cloud was passing over us as we felt the temperature of the room beginning to fall. The next day it was even worse. Malcolm lost his temper. So it goes.

If you have taken this rubble for my past
Raking though it for fragments you could sell
Know that I long ago moved on
Deeper into the heart of the matter

If you think you can grasp me, think again:
My story flows in more than one direction
A delta springing from the riverbed
With its five fingers spread.

Adrienne Rich, from Later Poems (p199)