Mar 202015

Playing in’Waltz Time’ – Ummpapa, Ummpapa – but the rhythm section is adding triplets and other faster tempos and we hear far more than four beats to the bar.

“The musical component comes first”, we are always saying – remember balance, rhythm and measure. It is simply that here there is an absence of melody so that the sound world feels disordered, meaningless – random pulses of pressure in both ears.

The suck of water over somebody’s head
The play of morning sunlight on water
The smoke of wood fire
Burning bodies
Oarsmen dipping their oars
The cry of river birds
Hawkers rustling their trinkets out of plastic bags
The click of tourist cameras

The river does not play a strict 4:4 tempo, it could be 11:4 or 15:4, or anything, and only the occasional snatches of a tune. But not one we can recognize. and not a strict tempo, but somehow we know it is waltz time  and can follow a pulse.

And the colour is blue. Again not that the river is strictly. Blue. It looks muddy brown, and they say here that it is heavily polluted by massive amounts of effluent from chemical factories and the rotting detritus of the more than hundred million people living one or two hundred miles upstream.

Not a blue that we can recognize. But it is blue nonetheless and pure – balance, rhythm and measure – structure and process. Here some say that the river is pure from flowing through Shiva’s dreadlocks, and the blue is from his throat and comes with the blessing of the worldly poison which he destroyed by drinking according to the story of legend. Others prefer to say the blue is in the flow, Shakti, and belongs to the colour of Kali’s or Durga’s body, it is a total, all immersing blue.

Ganga-ji, the river Ganges.

Haunted by barely recognised pressures

 Posted by at 11:18 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Mar 182015

They crowd up against me, catching my attention, but disappearing before I turn my head. Or at least there is nothing to see, but the it may not be the visual sense I need to use, but rather some other process that I have never learned to use, dazzled as I am by the visual, the sounds, the touches, the tastes and the smells. Smells, last to come to mind but ever present. Perhaps what I am after is what has come down from the past. Distant and not so distant. Handed down through the generations of human lives.

To write, to let people know, to give glimpses of a mind. To get lost in the fascination of mind; my own or the mind of another. Writing reveals something of a mind from centuries past. Mind and its variety of arts, it’s music, it’s language, it’s dance and mark making efforts to share, to affect, to organise the things of the mind and hence the things of the world.

A bit more from Danube, this is from a section about the character of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (page 135): 

‘Adam Wandruszka has pointed out that Frederick III, who died in 1493, already showed the typical traits later canonised by the the Hapsburg myth: the symbiosis of inadequacy and wisdom, the inability to act translated into shrewd prudence and far-seeing strategy, hesitation and contradiction elevated to the level of normal conduct, the yearning for peace and quiet mingled with the strength to accept interminable, insoluble conflicts.’

Such good stuff! It leaves me wondering how I picked up these traits at a young age, gradually assembling them into a modus vivendi, with the obvious differences that I had not been born into the nobility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It must begin with the building appreciation of one’s inadequacy, one’s impotence to do anything about certain fixed foundations about the situation one is born into. At the same time for me there was a secret appreciation of my superiority. It had to be secret because there was no evidence for it. This is the stuff of comedy.

Irony was mentioned

 Posted by at 10:56 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Mar 112015

In our discussion on Monday irony was rather inadequately explored and the inadequacy left its traces, scars, whatever in my mind. Then in my continued rereading of Claudio Magris’s Danube I came across the following:

‘Here the Danube is young [in the vicinity of Ulm] and Austria is still far off, but clearly the river is already a sinuous master of irony, of that irony which created the greatness of Central European culture, the art of outflanking one’s own barrenness and checkmating one’s own weakness; the sense of the duplicity of things, and at the same time the truth of them, hidden but single. Irony taught respect for the misunderstandings and contradictions of life, the disjunction between the recto and verso of a page that never meet even though they are the selfsame thing between time and eternity, between language and reality . . . Tolerance of the imbalances and deformities of the world . . . ‘ (p. 58).

I am sure you will agree that these words are “right up our street”.

Speaking my mind

 Posted by at 11:05 am  Catastrophe Games, Echo Effects  Comments Off
Mar 102015

Speaking my mind, living my mind; mind being vast empty tracts, more extensive than the universe of potential that waits without waiting for me to speak, indeed to live. The angel descended and stood quietly, not exactly ignoring me, but on the other hand not making further advance towards me. What do you want of me? Me looking at you, you looking at me. Blankly mirroring, surreptitiously distorting. Dark energy, matter, emptiness. A whirling speck of dust. But I must not be hemmed in, I must be free to think my thoughts and attempt translation into language. Again.

Talking briefly of your experiences of India, the changes it may have wrought in you left its mark in me and yesterday happened upon Robin Robertson’s poem Kalighat. There is no part I can extract so I will quote the whole thing.

Only a blue string tethers him to the present.

The small black goat; the stone enclosure;

the forked wooden altar washed in coconut 

milk, hung with orange and yellow marigolds;

the heap of sodden sand.

With a single bleat

he folds himself into a shadow in the corner,

nosing a red hibiscus flower onto its back

and nibbling the petals.

The temple bells; the drum. It is nearly time.

A litre of Ganges holy water

up-ended over him. He’s dragged

shivering to centre-stage and

slotted, white eyed, into place. On the last

drumbeat, the blade separates

his head from his body. The blood

comes out of his neck

in little gulps.

The tongue and eyes are still

moving in the head

as the rest of him

is thrown down next to it.

Neither of his two parts can quite take this in.

The legs go on trembling,

pedalling at the dirt – slowly trying to drag

the body back to its loss: the head

on its side, dulling eyes fixed

on this black familiar ghost;

it’s limbs flagging now,

the machinery running down.

There’s some progress, but not enough, then

after a couple of minutes, none at all.

The last thing I notice is a red petal

still in his mouth, and another,

six inches away, in his throat.


                                           *                                      *                                     *

Rabih Alameddine pulled me to dig out my copy of Claudio Magris’s Danube and begin to read it again. On page 23 I found: ‘Anyone with a solid education in science eventually feels at home, even among things which change and continually lose their identity.’ I recognise that sense of things losing their habitual identity. Even my own sense of identity. Am I what I was?

On Being Peripheral

 Posted by at 3:45 pm  Echo Effects, Exodus, Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Mar 082015

Loitering in the Calcutta metropolis – Kalighat is a forever new city, the Bengal foundation myth is powerful and self-confident, but it breathes a particular kind of newness that is instantly tarnished and decayed each morning sunrise, and centrality of position is simultaneously surrendered .

It is another instance of the story of modernity. However, in Calcutta it belongs to its own genius of place, only emblematic in ways which can feel are familiar to us…


…so over the last 50 years the entire Bengali middleclass has become peripheral too. Well educated, artistic and previously successful, the citizens argue constantly among themselves: easy to blame their losses on the ‘paralysis’ during the more than three decades of unbroken Communist Party rule,or the long-term economic decline of traditional industries in the region.

Paribartan (tr: change) came in the 2012 elections which brought the populist Mamatee Bannerjee. She is an unmarried woman :

‘Very best sherry taste merry rest jate
Aage bhage den giya srimatur haate

Kot kot kotakot tok tok tok
Thhun thuun thuun thuun dhok dhok dhok…’

The transliterated lines come from the beginning of the Bengali poem The English New Year by Ishwan Gupta, first published in Calcutta in 1852. Not much requires further translation except the 2nd line which says that ‘the sherry is to be given to the missus before anyone else’.

Observe our daily noisy stirrings: ignorant of our losses and decline the great city continues to celebrate, and grows and grows. The population is now said to exceed 17 million and one million pour over the Hoogley Bridge every day to seek opportunities for work.

For a few there are the rewards of fabulous wealth (those who have most successfully embraced the different form of ‘New India’ liberal economics). For the rest, the population embraces the daily modernity of the street and (mostly)polite conversation under the protection of the missus of the city, who is of course also forever Kali.