A checklist for the skip

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Sep 132013


What filters do we have in place? What flushing mechanism is fitted? Who is going first? Are you sure this isn’t a joke?

How long is it since the last falling dream? The empty streets of deserted Pisa lie beneath somewhere in the darkness.


Spinning fast I fling out a hand to grasp at what I believe to be another hand, a hopefully helpful even healing hand, but in the whirl of it all I lose the thread, lose the will and slump in the corner of two high walls. A right angle of stone, rough and unforgiving. Out the corner of a half-open eye I see the Sufis laughing amongst themselves.

Sorry I have to run she says brigthly showing me her featherlight running shoes that are more sock than shoe: and she’s off spinning through the night streets singing sotto voce an almost familiar song of loss and renewed hope.


Sep 112013

Stop right here for a conversation between fox and crow - or rather Mr and Mrs Fox on Passagiata having some words with a close call relative of crow.

We are walking along the seashore not far from Chesil Beach last week in the afternoon of one of the last warm sunny August days of this long summer, when we come across Raven. Shining black of course we recognise him at once, being too big and clever to be just crow. He is eating ice cream. Nothing strange about that either, as we are close to a beach café, well known to the locals in these parts where cold drinks, freshly fried fish dinners, and delicious flavours of local ice cream are to be had. Nothing strange about that, or the care he takes eating, Raven doesn’t smash his beak into the cone like crow would do. No, that would never do, Raven has good manners and carefully puts his long beak into the cone to suck out the liquid inside. Sticky, white streaked with red – strawberry vanilla.

Hello Crow, Mr Fox says kicking sand with his toes , Raven to you, he says giving Mr Fox the eye, Don’t get too close to him, Mrs Fox says grabbing Mr Fox by the arm, Sorry Crow, Mr Fox says. There is a tense pause.

Slowly turning his head and taking his beak out of the ice cream cone for a moment, You don’t get it do you, says the bird. His beak is glistening white with the wet cream liquid, white and flecked with streaks of red.

Yes, I agree, it has been a bumper copy – the last late August London Review of Books (29 August 2013) that is. It almost reads all of piece; just like a modernist novel, the various voices of the narrators criss-crossing through the narrative.

The first calamity it begins. Stawberry vanilla ripple. How was it for you, Mr Fox asks Mrs Fox, but the calamity the reviewer is focussing on is the First Wold War (‘…the calamity from which all other calamities sprang’ quoting Fritz Stern). The summer before, the original August, and all explanations are improbable, and equally opaque – it is history as ‘raw modernity’, the narrator says. Mr and Mrs Fox are also wondering how far Raven’s glistening white beak would be able to sink into any one of their bare leg. Which of us will be first, they both are thinking.

How do you know that, Raven asks, strawberry vanilla rippling, mimicking what Uncle Wally constantly keeps pointing out over all our shoulders – fragmented causation. The next section is called ‘Rah, Rah, Cheers, Queers’, in which Terry Castle names her dirty little secrets, or is it next chapter of this golden notebook August LRB issue. What a weirdo, Terry writes in italics. It is Mummy speaking, the self styled “Reverend Countess Mavis the Portable of Frome Valley”, according to pieces of her writing that Terry found.

We live there too, Mr and Mrs Fox say together, turning towards each other in amazement. The Frome Valley, what a surprise! Raven is back sucking more ice cream out of the cone. Have you come for therapy then, Raven asks, The August 1913 postcard from Marcel Duchamp to Max Bergman comes as the next section/chapter: the great icon of modernity – the postcard is from Herne Bay.

Now that is strange, you say confusing reader and writer for a moment, but not really when you think I was so close by on the Kent coast only the week before in August. It was Ramsgate, and I wrote about it here. There is a ‘need for rotating circles’ we are told Duchamp put in one of his notebooks afterwards, indicating something possibly to do with the pavilion and pier (which blew down in 1973).

Zugwang (‘almost complete’), the succeeding sections/reviews/chapters spin by: Unfinished Business, Half-Fox, Vanity and Venality (including the review of Wolfgang Streek’s Gekaufte Zeit… who we first met speaking at an International Conference in Florence 2 years ago – the transcription issued in the NLR and reported in a previous feuilleton here), … , … , Adrenaline (actually this is the name of the book reviewed), Five Star Billionaire, and then finally – Diary – the piece you dealt with last week too… “In or around June 1995″.

Mr and Mrs Fox continue to watch Raven finish his ice cream, expertly sucking the last dregs so not a single drop falls on the sand. On The Concept of History and so on, and while we are on about coincidences or causation, as it happens there are also bits of Ted Hughes’s poem ‘The Thought-Fox’ in the Oratorio being sung in the Frome Valley – Cattistock Church 0n Sunday October 6th, 4pm. Mr Fox is singing the tenor line: ‘…Each shred a wound and a petition. Pity, Terror, covert before Oedipus Rex…’. Or at least I think the words are the poet’s but I am not always to be trusted. You need to check.

Welcome to my world too, says Raven warmly putting his sticky white red flecked beak into the extended right hand of the rippling Uncle Wally, And do please call me August. In my opinion, the great bird continues, Rebecca Solnit goes on too long in that Diary piece, at least far too long for my limited attention span, and her piece could have done with the BIG RED PEN. And, while we are on about it, stop pretending time has not always come in fragments and shards – been in “deteriation” as you put it – far longer than the last 20 years, at least since 1913.

Who owns these scrawny little feet?

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Sep 062013




‘In or around’ writes Rebecca Solnit (LRB Diary 29 August 2013) ‘June 1995 human character changed again.’ Do you even remember the last century? Or do I? It seems rather dream-like to me. Something that the the old people used to talk about. It goes along with the trenches of the First World War or the blitz in the second. Although as I attempt to get a handle on 1995 I’m not sure whether 1995 does not seem further back in the mists of time than the First World War. But nonetheless Solnit goes on blithely as though it’s all crystal clear, no mysteries or legends, no monsters or uncannily beautiful women appearing as if from nowhere; it is merely the intrusion of ever faster techno-developmental planes of engagement that leave us breathlessly engaged with our devices. Are we different as she suggests? I am. I hardly recognise myself but that is more to do with nearly twenty years of deterioration – ageing and the usual sorts of crisis. As though there is a usual sort of crisis.

And I have downloaded Ted Hughes’ Crow on to my kindle. Examination at the Womb-door begins: ‘Who owns these scrawny little feet? Death./Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face? Death./Who owns these still working lungs? Death.’ And so on in his pounding rhythm. I love it. Yeah, let’s put death on the agenda! William H Gass’s character in The Tunnel who is referred to as Mad Meg or Magus Tabor lectures his students on the fantasy of so much history and wants to impress them (it sounds like they come to be entertained – a must-see before you die) with the single fact that history is all about death. So Men beyond 50 (beyond hope, I suppose that might mean) or die-a-log are right on the button – the 60s generation finding themselves up against it: surely we were never going to die. With so much life, so much hope pumping through our bodies we were going to live forever. No? Well, if we have to get old and die we’ll do it better than any previous generation. Ha Ha Ha.

So we have to stick our over fed snouts into the swill of Hughes’ poetry, especially Crow. How did he get there? To that place where he could write this stuff. And I remain rather amazed that I heard about it and bought it. Where I saw a review or who told me about it I have no idea. Though I am grateful for the nudge.

Then I think of walking through rural France for three weeks in 1997 and noticing the crucifixes – many life size – outside of villages and hamlets. Puzzled by the repeated sight of this tortured-to-death man. And it’s not even that with a bit of work we can get grips, come to terms with death.

Although we are such cheats that we will always have a go at pretending that we’ve got that one sorted. Tick that one off Jimmy.

Sep 062013
2007-2008 008

The telephone went dead, and a few moments later the door bell went. Should I answer it I thought or try to get the call back? Perhaps they will go away, but the redial failed, the mobile signal had disappeared.

Crossing point – Uncle Wally who was rippling at my side would call this an instance of fragmented causation. Does history work any more I longed to ask him: your words were written down in notebooks long ago in your cramped handwriting, some left in bundles on dusty shelves in a Paris and Berlin academies, others in boxes in friend’s or fellow writer’s apartment, and then found a generation later, every scrap brought together and made into a collection, is this what you intended?

Hello, is there anybody there? I heard the man’s plaintive voice. I was naked. It was another fine Indian Summer day, perhaps the very last, and I like to strip off this time of year to enjoy the last warmth of the sun. If I lie still perhaps he will go away, I thought, but he didn’t, going on rapping at the door and asking again and again.

I didn’t know the meaning of the plaintive either: the knock on the door and summons in his voice, perhaps he had come to read the electricity meter, or was it to make some other demand, I asked, my bared body ready to be mutilated, riddled.

How wild is the wildest, and how tame is the tamest? I went on asking myself, and no wonder these days of late summer sunshine we liked to attend to the effects the ripples of Uncle Wally’s words have on our bodies, and the pleasure and at the same time burning stroke of his phrases and quotations, breaking them off from the pages where they are found to drop them into our own sentences, queer.

But in this instance I had preferred  some words by FK: “In that case, I’ll miss the thing by waiting for it”. I took the phrase from the frontispiece of Satantango, the book written by Kraznahorkai some 20 years ago for a seven hour film by Bela Tarr in 1994, and recently translated by George Szirtes into English.