It is a fresh start, and at the beginning of each year I begin a new Wordstall folder. Through the year I collect in it handwritten notes, drafts and print outs of some of our posts, newspaper cuttings, book reviews, and other bits and pieces from the internet and elsewhere. Each annual Wordstall folder is given a title. Last year’s folder was called ‘The Coming of Age‘. This year’s folder is called ‘The Curator Challenge‘.
As well as the Wordstall annual folders, I also keep more folders in which other papers, writing on various themes and subjects, and other printed materials are stored, and these are being continually added to over the years. It is a growing, harvesting process. Some of these folders are unnamed but others are given titles, and on occasions a few of these may appear to have a particular connection with the annual Wordstall folders, although the nature of this unfolding relationship is not ever clear. For instance, I already know the relationships to come of ‘The Curator Challenge‘ 2014 annual folder includes three others, and as it happens all these three folder titles have names: ‘Strange Cases of…’ , ‘This Pulsating Mechanism’, and ‘The Cult Container’.
There is the beginning of everything and all the folders have lives of their own. In this instance, the birth and lives of these three folders appear to be related, or inter-related better put, and their origins are spread over three generations like this:
‘Strange Cases of…‘ is the grandfather folder of the three and began in the nineteenth century of course with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It has grown prodigiously over several years and indeed is now so large that is better described as a bundle. The diverse collection are all stories of nostalgia and obstinacy, troubling adventures with that characteristic borderline mix of fear/excitement, accompanied by a pervasive feeling of loss which possesses all men and women in their lives at certain times. Just now within the protean folder my eye falls on a page of a music sheet , the score of a 1930′s Argentinian tango whose title is Febril – Fever. Or I read these words copied out of a letter written by the North American sculptor Frederic Remington (the original 1904 cast of his most famous piece ‘The Bronco Buster’ resides in the Oval Office of the president to this day): “Jews, Injuns, Chinamen, Italians, Huns – the rubbish of the earth I hate – I’ve got some Winchesters and when the massacring begins I can put my share of ‘em, and what’s more, I will”.
The second folder, ‘The Pulsating Mechanism‘ lives a mother/father adventurer life in a bi-curious kind of way. One way or another the folder is filled with love stories, all are set in the age of late capitalism, and many appear to be of european descent. I say this as I read again the famous Kafka quote off the cover of the folder, “In that case I’ll miss the thing by waiting for it”, and also as I locate again the memory of the folder’s birth, precisely within a second hand copy of a book of poems written by the German poet Hans-Magnus Enzensberger – Mausoleum (1975, tr Joachim Neugroschel 1976) – the moment of conception being the poem A.M.T (1912-1954), which begins as follows:
‘It’s certain that he never read a newspaper; that he knitted his gloves himself; that he always kept losing trunks, books, coats; and that whenever he broke his stubborn silence at meals, he fell into a shrill stuttering or a cackling laugh. His eyes were radiant, inorganic blue, like stained glass.
‘Very well then. Let us imagine a universal automaton…‘ – after Turing, Alan Mathison, who was the inventor of the computer, and who also committed suicide in 1954, in fear of the discovery of his homosexuality some say.
‘The Cult Container‘ is the third folder’s name. It is the child of the three, indeed it was only born late last year. The title comes from a phrase to be found in the most recent writing of the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, that is the most recently translated into English (In the World Interior of Capital / You Must Change Your Life). The folder emerges as a fully embodied and breathing something from Sloterdijk’s life of writing organic adventures and metaphysical histories of enclosed spaces (eg his vast trilogy Spheres published between 1998 and 2004).
Some lives are spent underground and some lived in the light. It is time for a true story begun in the middle years of the First World War.
It happens that my mother and the writer Penelope Fitzgerald were born in the same year. 1916. There were other similarities between them too. They both had childhood nicknames that stuck with them into adult life. My mother’s name was ‘Ba’. Penelope Fitzgerald was called ‘Mops’. They also both wrote novels, and the two of them were also late starters. Ba, who wrote under the name Rosemary Mackay, had her first novel, The House and the Day, published in 1966 when she was 50. Mop’s first novel, The Golden Child, was published in 1975 shortly before she was 60. There were further parallels. Their publishers considered them both to be ‘amateur authors’, and the name Grace also figured large in both their lives. For Mops, Grace was the name of the house boat on the Thames river in Battersea, where she lived with her family in the 1970′s and wrote when she could find time, which sank twice and was always damp. For Ba, Grace was the name of her mother (my grandmother). She lived in the West of Scotland half of the year and, just like the house boat, Grace could and did on occasions sink other people’s lives. The West Highland being known for its high rainfall, Ba and Mops also shared the damp theme, and liminality too in a way, and in their writing for a time as well.
However, the similarities end there. Ba died in 1995 having filled many more notebooks with her stories, and sent many more typed manuscripts to her agent, but having failed to have any more books published. Mops died in 2000, a Booker Prize winner (1979) and having had 8 more novels published, and famous living writers and reviewers continue to ask today – “So how does she do it”, and “How did she do that”.
They are all asking the same question. How can the whole of time be compressed into just sixty seconds. It is a performance and a practice, and quite bewildering. Such is also ‘The Curator Challenge’ – See You In A Minute.