Does death have a future?

 Posted by at 4:05 pm  Catastrophe Games, Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
Jan 312015

Well that brought you to a stop didn’t it!

There’s nothing like a slash across the belly

To bring you to your knees!

‘A few years before the October Revolution, one of the most distinguished authors of bio political Utopianism in the early Soviet Union, the poet Alexander Svyatogor (1899-after 1937), had founded a group whose programme included the abolition of death, the scientifically achieved resurrection of the dead and the technological domination of the cosmos; the group called itself the “Verticalists”.’*

Following the recent surgery I underwent I have spent more time horizontal than I am used to. The vertical becoming by definition even more of a challenge than usual. I don’t think the Verticalists had walking in mind, but that must be where it starts: the changing relationship with the ground as primates and early humans reached towards the fruit and the sky. Old Adam scratching his head and scratching his arse and stretching up to that delicious looking fruit. And thence able to put two and two together connecting possible lines of logic. And while he’s about it why bother with crouching, just walk and be proud with his head scraping the heavens.

‘Whoever wishes to eliminate the final cause of harmful privacy in human existence must do away with the enclosure of each individual in their own little piece of lifetime. This is where the renewed common task must begin. The true commune can only be formed by immortals.’*

The question is begged: who are we? Human on the road to becoming gods of the universe. We work on ourselves, in the gyms, in the yoga studios, sign up for PhDs and naturally offer ourselves up for a lifetime of psychoanalysis. Do I hope to find the way to the top of Mount Olympus? Why not? If George Clooney can do it, why not me!

*i continue to find nourishment in Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life.

Vogue Rot

 Posted by at 1:48 pm  Catastrophe Games, Fundamental Perversions, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 092015
PC faded151

What is ‘Vogue Rot’? Some kind of fungal disease found in cold and dark conditions, a form of wet anaerobic decay, or what? It sounds unpleasant, and it is. Fair warning.

Preamble: for some of us there is the sense that nothing ever happens (one could call this a peculiarly English sense of personal and collective history). We think we long for something to happen, but we spend all our energy avoiding the possibility and living our lives as if they form a single narrative. Occasionally however we meet someone whose life  has been so fractured by an excess and constant happenings from birth and early childhood, that it breaks and collapses this idea of a single narrative.

I was lent a book last Sunday. It is called Ariadne’s Thread, In Memory of WG Sebald. It is a ficto-documentary written by Philippa Comber (‘PC’), using her diary and charting her encounters with ‘Max’ (as Sebald chose to call himself) from the time they first met in Norwich in 1980.

Sebald would not have liked the book’s title: Ariadne’s Thread smacks of mythological mish-mash, and exactly the kind “adornment” which he detested in writing and the pretence of strands woven into a single thread.

I began to suspect – In Memory of – was this a love/hate work? However, my mind was clouded by sentimental feelings for this particular writer who had first opened my eyes to the many strands and ‘constant happenings’ streams of mitteleuropa post-war literature. I also saw that PC had the advantages of speaking German, had lived among and knew the academic worlds of German literature, and she was a psychotherapist so she had the language of analysis at her disposal as well. So I opened the book on Sunday night and began to read.

I immediately noted the lack of any photographs in the book, of the kind which Sebald always included in his work, the images reproduced being faded through a particular process he employed of repeated photocopying. Here are some more sepia facts which were also omitted from the book. WG Sebald was born in Germany in May 1944 and died in a car crash in December 2001 in East Anglia at the age of 57. He married an Austrian born women called Ute in 1967, and they had a daughter, Anna, who was badly injured in the same car accident in which he died. His main translator was Anthea Bell with whom he worked collaboratively and simultaneously, Sebald sending her the first draft of chapters written in German, which she would send back translated into English with comments and feedback as he continued to write the later chapters. None of these facts are in the book, and the impression given is that PC was the only real woman in Sebald’s otherwise solitary life.

What is Vogue Rot? It is a kind of British monthly fashion magazine filled with photographs of models standing in various poses, and appeals to a particular aspirational social class of women. The magazine has been going for a very long time, and old copies are difficult to get rid of. Thick and glossy, they hardly burn even in a hot open fire, and natural decay takes a very long time. They rot very slowly even if added in a rich compost. Finally all text and images dissolve , but the resultant layer of grey wet dust adds no goodness to the soil.

An equivalent term to Vogue Rot might be “Utter Mess” – it was a favourite phrase of Sebald in conversation. Vogue Rot is also a style of English writing…

…Early on (p. 10) PC writes that from young adult life she liked to accumulate old copies of Vogue magazines, and that they filled her life and travelled with her in piles of “bricollage”. She says that Max enjoyed seeing these piles when he first visited. Rather than bricollage, the preferable word would have been in German (I am ignorant of what it would be – aka ‘grey wet dust’), and connected Sebald to the writing strand of Trummerliteratur (‘rubble literature’) and a post-war writer such as Heinrich Boll. Alexander Kluge (b 1932) continues in the tradition…

…Pulverised, wet, and in after shock from childhood. ‘In Memory…’ is not the way the likes of Penelope Fitzgerald would have researched and written a life of Sebald as Blue Flower, nor Anselm Kieffer painted a recollection of life in Morgenthau Plan land growing up like him in post-war Germany. Instead what PC tells is a singular English story held in the memory of a romantic crisis. This occurs shortly after the death of her father in 1981: she is in a “fair old turmoil”, contacts Max who she has been seeing quite frequently by then, and is rebuffed. The charged, as she puts it,”erotic” moment passed, but the pain has lingered on in the memory, analytically speaking her desire for comfort during this extreme experience of loss perhaps being aroused to resemble something else…

…Like an Ariadne’s Thread. I read to the end that same Sunday evening, not every word of course, but as much as I could bear to in the presence of this phenomenon Vogue Rot. Shudder of disgust, and unable to sleep I turned on Radio Benjamin and listened to one of his stories for children. It was called ‘On Swindlers’.

“Today I want to tell you about a great swindler…”, it began. A blessed transformational revolution swiftly followed and I soon passed into dreamless oblivion.

The book has since been returned.

whistling in the dark

 Posted by at 11:38 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Atelier, Exodus  Comments Off
Jan 052015

There are three words given/suggested to me by the iPad: I, The and You. The thing is that they begin to take root as though I do, in fact have to use one or all of them. And it’s lovely, the world opened up by these three words: me and you and this object, whatever it is. The thing is, you and I and the object have to take a trip, have to do something. The proverbial journey awaits us. The sweat of anticipation drying and cooling in the chill winter air. There are voices and laughter coming from the other room, across the passage with its low wattage bulb that miraculously has survived from 1953. One doesn’t hang about in that passage, straight across to that other room, the door has been left open three or four centimetres, letting the light and noise inhabit that greasy corridor, giving a brief semblance of life before it is snuffed out.

Here, in this room, on this side of the passage, it’s quieter, somehow a reflective atmosphere has taken root and established itself as the dominant force, reflection and thought. You have to discover in which room you belong. I use the word room, but hall might be more accurate, a creation of wood and stone and space. Roaring fires in one, slumbering stoves in the other.

Are you trying to wake up or fall asleep? I hear the question but am unsure how to answer it, how to respond to it. Are you climbing or falling? But tell me, how do I value equality and at the same know that work and practice involves leaving the inertia of the horizontal world of equality for the risks and adventure of the vertical. Can it be assumed that we are all involved in the work of the vertical, the climbing of some actual or metaphorical mountain? Or rather do we have to accept that some of us will choose that very inertia? But it is not like that. What makes us human (I’m only human!) is that we will endeavour to choose both: sinking into the warm waters of inertia (I’m so exhausted, I can’t be bothered, I’ll do it tomorrow) and almost simultaneously begin to plan the next project.

And let’s pause to remember the ancestors. It is appropriate at this time of year as we turn our faces to the future to remember that we can only glimpse bits of possible futures if we stand on the shoulders of the ancestors. In which room or hall are the ancestors? They must be in both: roaring with laughter, arguing in one one, reading, writing, studying in the other. And sometimes pointing outside to the challenge that awaits.