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)

The Standing Man

 Posted by at 11:55 am  Hitting the Potholes, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 252013

The older man, tidily dressed in his best country clothes and farmer’s hat, walks across the Piazza del Duomo in the city centre. Stepping steadily along, he also appears to have no interest whatsoever in going into the Cathedral doors which are open behind him. Whatever his destination may be, with his shepherd’s walking stick he looks like he is more at home up on the high meadows well outside the city tending his flock.


He turns towards the camera, and stops for a moment to become the standing man. Whatever the real story… and for more see “Storio Permesse… Storio Proibito…” by Valerio Ugazio (written in 1998, it has only just appeared in translation into English: Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family - follow the link to read the review in the Guardian last Saturday by Tim Park, and, yes I agree, I do so much prefer the Italian title).

Whatever the real story… and, not shaming or blaming, maybe simply boldly naming it can make a difference.


Does goodness exist, the standing man with his camera asks. Not in mute silence. Better to ask: Does boldness exist?

“The standing man” coincidentally also appears in Istanbul’s city centre at the Taksim Square last Monday in the early evening a week ago (June 17th). Instead of entering the park then filled with protesters, the man stops in front of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, takes off his backpack, puts his hands in his pockets and begins to stare up at this building opposite the park. After a time a few bystanders stop to ask him what he is doing, but he doesn’t reply. Later the police arrive, do a body search and also check his bag. They find nothing. Do you have a problem? they ask, but he still doesn’t answer. They leave him and he stays there the next eight hours. By the end about 300 people join him, and, all standing and staring up, word begins to spread on Twitter: duran adam.

As reported by Kaya Genç the standing man is reminiscent of Alan Badiou’s idea of the “event” as the fundamental component of politics. As for a literary parallels, Genç also suggests Herman Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener, the man who “would prefer not to”. You and I are reminded that we wrote about Bartleby & Co last September (for all the Wordstall feuilleton pieces, put Bartleby into a search here). 

What comes next? A week later and Istanbul’s Taksim Square has now been cleared of protesters, and some political opinion makers think the standing man is missing the point. Not mute silence, community organisations and forums for speaking out are required for a mass social movement to be more lasting than a transient day for the standing man on Twitter. But either way,  the real story is the man standing is shining his light out to show:

1. Either way it’s BIG BUSINESS
2. Rocketing PROFITS are part of “the racket”
3. The myth is: the more you pay, the better they care
4. It’s a weird, broken system that really isn’t working

The older man, tidily dressed in his best country clothes and farmer’s hat: so I’ve worked as a doctor in my time dressed in a clean white coat, and got to know the health system from the inside pretty well. Then I watched it being broken up, and left in 2008 because I wasn’t prepared to be broken up the same way, and end up becoming a weird croupier for the healthcare casino (the weasel phrase for primary care doctors was ‘health gatekeepers’!). Now I am on the outside same as you – and it is like the BIG EVENT of the standing man – we can tell what are the Real Stories of “men of our age”.

Let’s open up the conversation.

Jun 072013

Last weekend’s Guardian Review (Sat June 1st) reads like a sign of the times short story or novella. The beginning section is about the imminent destruction of the buried classical city at Mes Aynak, which is to be found in eastern Afghanistan. This vast city was the crossing point between East and West for more than a thousand years after Alexander the Great passed through and a Greek city was founded, and now famous for the fabulous Gandhara Buddhist and other treasures that are being found there since its redicovery in the 1960′s. The narrator is an old-boy British patrician writer/explorer called William and the unfolding story of imminent destruction is due to the “rescue dig” being organised by a French team lead by a man called Marquis – what else could he be called? – who is also famous in Kabul for the quality of his wine cellar. Everything must be dug out in the next year or in order to allow the Chinese who have “leased” the equally vast copper reserves to be extracted. Except of course for the presence of the Taliban who have more explosive ideas how most thoroughly to destroy the remains of the city and its Buddhist relics, or to flog them “illegally” through the bazaars of northern Pakistan to the western Art World for huge sums in order to finance the purchase of more weapons . I long to go.

This story alone is worthy of the beginning of a Wu Ming collective book, and another section the Guardian Review (P 11) in fact has a review of Altai. The new narrator of this section describes the highly successful (“uputdownable”) Wu Ming writing style, which they have created for themselves, as “feuilleton fiction”. I long to write like that.

The next section is an account of a book called Spam, about the internet stuff (the stuff we don’t want but, like the best nineteenth century novels, appears ‘to have life of its own’) in which the teller of the story wonders how our online life might be different if we thought of it as “Weeds”. On the same page there is a review of Italo Calvino letters.

Of course I wont be buying any of these books I tell Calvino, but I know, like once on a winter’s night, that I have already fallen into the story. The next section is called The Burning Question. About the book by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark, it has a question for us: What will happen if we try to burn all the world’s currently known and extractable fossil fuel reserves. The answer is that we will asphyxiate ourselves long before this is possible (the science suggests that anything more than about 30% extraction will be our certain suicide note).

And so the story continues – But you need to be patient with me. I’ll get there, in fact the novel has already started, we are all, so to speak, in the middle of it, you just haven’t noticed yet: there is a muddled atheist professor (Steve Jones) who pleads about being misunderstood; there is a history of Werner Herzog novelistic view of our plight as “frail, vulnerable humans between indifferent nature and punishing God”; there is a short vignette about ‘cli-fi’ writing.

That is ‘cli’ for climate, I tell LULU, and ‘fi’ for fiction .

Naming Older Men Desires

 Posted by at 7:26 am  Atelier, Exodus, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Jun 072013

Dear L,

You desire older men, you write in your Diary*. Not long after this longing of yours began In 1963, when you were 15 and I was 13 and just about through puberty, I also began to long for you. “As luck would have it” like you say. But you, being two years older than me, were always unobtainable. So my adolescent male sex life began.

Ten years later in 1973 like you I had the “inevitable depression” too. Unlike you I didn’t end up in psychiatric hospital, the male preference being for suicide. As it happened I got through more or less silently and on my own, and still longing for you probably helped. Then by 1983, you were in the Women’s Liberation Movement, and even more unobtainable than ever. Us getting together was impossible, in fact, I agree with you, it was pretty much “taboo”. Silent again

Being a man then my only resort seemed to me to join the caring professions, which I duly did, and it is now 30 years on, and I have grown to become the older man you have always desired. Have I also matured as a man is the question you ask in your Diary. Well, although I have never given you up, I know the meaning of restraint, and I have realized that you, being always two years older than I, are forever unobtainable.

But let me tell you as an older man I have not learned the responsibility you also ask for in your Diary. I am more foolish ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ male, less clever and more curious than ever, for instance about the increasingly porous boundaries of my sexuality, and about many other previously secure frontiers. Irresponsibly, I care less and less about my so-called dignity and vaunted male identity.

Naming older men desires, perhaps we should finally agree to hang out together. You know where to find me.

(* Diary (Jenny Diski) : London Review of Books, Vol 35 Number 11 (6 June 2013) P 35)

Get With It

 Posted by at 10:36 am  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Apr 172013

The frontispiece of Midnight Salvage has the following quote: ‘I don’t know how to measure happiness. The issue is happiness, there is no other issue, or no other issue one has a right to think about for other people, to think about politically, but I don’t know how to measure happiness.’ (George Oppen, letter to June Oppen Degnam, August 5,1970).

Beyond parochial dread and narrow horizons: Get with it! I’m tired of listening to a tone that sounds like a lament – or is it a celebration? The problem is it’s impossible to tell the difference.

Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 by Adrienne Rich. It is a slim book (P 3-69), and some of the pages are more than half empty (being poems… and some with short lines). Here are a few more details of where I stand:

1. The book I bought is second hand, a nice enough hardback copy with original covers, 1st edition, 1999. WW Norton and company, New York

2. It belonged to an academic library for a few years before being (in capitals) “WITHDRAWN”. The word is stamped on the ‘Academic Information Services’ paper slip which the librarian (Adelphi Campus, Peru Street, Salford). stuck inside the front cover

3. There is only one other stamp on the librarian paper slip inside (when it might have been taken out to be read), the date 28 Nov 2001. There is no other evidence inside the book of it having been borrowed or read.

4. During the period 1995-1998 when Adrienne Rich was writing these poems she was in her mid-60′s.

5. I made the leap to reading this particular collection through reading the essay of Jacqueline Rose: ‘Go Girl!’: Adrienne Rich and Natalie Anger (reprinted in On Not being Able to Sleep).

“The issue of happiness” – the quotation is the nearest thing I’ve read to a manifesto recently, an adequate Sex and Politics one that I’d sign up to, and which is capable of standing up to the tests and strains of contemporary life, including  the “stalled feminist movement” (so-called) – for instance, it was only just now that I was reading Samuel Pepys making an observation on women (that Ur-figure of the English masculine establishment and who I am told has recently returned to London and taken up writing his Diary again): ‘Tis a puzzle whether whores have turned chaste or decent women sluttish, but lunacy seizes all these days’ (Basil Ransome David transcripsit).

Sex and Politics: here is a section from Adrienne Rich’s Midnight Salvage manifesto (NB I’ve made one transposition of a “his” to a “her” to suit the current times, and now, as I read the first line again, also bow my head as I think of the horrors of the recent Boston marathon too):

not O my Captain

fallen cold & dead by the assassin’s hand

but cold alive & cringing : : drinking with the assassins

in suit of noir Hong Kong silk

pushing her daughter in her famine-

waisted flamingo gown

out on the dance floor with the traffickers

in nerve gas saying to them Go for it

and to the girl Get with it

Feb 272013
Angelus Novus Klee

In- flight entertainment at thirty seven thousand feet and across several time zones, the Oscar winning film Lincoln is being shown, but I prefer reading an abandoned copy of the New Statesman magazine (“Free thinking since 1913″: 15-21 February 2013) which I had picked up from off a table in the departure lounge before we left London . It is easier reading than the London Review of Books, but the writers are a familiar cast of characters; Will Self and others. And the same topics for discussion;  “Iraq, Ten years on… Was it worth it?” .

I dwell over a book review under the title “Existential Jazz” by Richard Holloway (own last book: Leaving Alexandria: a memoir of Faith and Doubt). The review is of John Gray, The Silence of Animals: on Progress and other Modern Myths. Richard Holloway calls it a companion work to Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals  (2002) by the same difficult to classify but forever interesting John Gray. The works explore  the origins of myth in the written word, and especially  the modern myths of human progress and purpose in the latest book. Gray traces these back to the origin of writing and via Plato and antiquity, through Christianity of the last two thousand years in western thought, and to modernity and today. From our first marks.

Back in the unimaginably smooth winging Boeing 777 in flight to The Great Abstraction, the breathtaking Richard Rogers terminals at Dubai airport, I begin to become drawn into the film Lincoln. The Spielberg film appears to offer a closely observed documentary of President Lincoln’s last month in office during 1864 and 1865. These are the dark and violent closing months of mass slaughter and destruction of the American Civil War, and the terrible violence is offered on screen by the deep shadows and glowing fires of the White House in which Lincoln’s progress and purpose, and determination to pass the 13th Ammendment to the Constitution before the end of the war, an ending which will also terminate the loss of his extraordinary executive powers as president during the state of emergency over the last four years of the Civil War. The undoubted good; the progressive and purposeful, final and absolute abolition of slavery.

On screen Daniel Day-Lewis plays the great man with wry humour, homespun wisdom, physical stoop and sunken eyes, and has earned his Oscar well. But as I recall my memory of  the in the matching photographic portraits in 1860 and 1864, the actor does not appear made up to express the suffering of the man  the pain, weariness and confusion in his deeply lined face in the latter, all the worry of losing and terrors the triumph of Evil, and the modern echoes reminiscent of the kind of progressive and purposeful war effort in Iraq ten years ago.

The “great abstraction”; somewhere between the face of Lincoln in the photographs in the 1860′s and on screen now, progress and purpose has been mytholigized. In the backdrops the film does not show the hospital tent city of Washington filled with the wounded men – the crowds (capacity was 70,000 beds) of amputees in the first modern “war of arms and legs”. It does not show the agony of Whitman, a hospital orderly beginning to reflect in his poetry the discovery of inner damage, the first records of which would go on to be called  post-traumatic stress injury. The film’s dark atmosphere and orange coal fires reminds me more of the ghastly nineteenth/twentieth century Italian poet and proto-fascist Gabriel d’ Annunzio, all guts and glory in the nation making of young men’s blood. At least that it is how the first half of the film appears.

The second half of the film will have to wait if I get to see it, because suddenly my own guttering candle spews forth and I am violently sick in mid flight!  Call it jet lag if you like. Or escaping the great abstraction call me pilgrim. As it happens I am on my way to India again, and in this formation of Wordstall writing equally lacking progress and purpose, I am again and again reminded of the response by the sage Theta to the question why do pilgrims go wandering: “In order to fail”.

(I am however encouraged to see Life of Pi outscored Lincoln at the Oscars !)

Jan 232013
wordstall pipes

Ich muss nicht schreiben…”. I don’t know who Peter Stamm was talking to when he said this, perhaps only talking to himself, but, product of a tidy Swiss mind, he wrote it down afterwards so that eventually the phrase found its way into print under his name.

Our Merzstall by contrast is an untidy and leaky construction, the patch is close to the issue of yellow brown fluids which constantly flow through, and a (Swiss, or clockwork, or other) logic for finding our way into commercial print appears to be entirely missing.

“Ich muss nicht schreiben…”, which, impersonally speaking,  stops one in ones tracks. Or it ought to, the same as the nineteenth  ’Bartleby Effect’, only we lack the (the American, or novelist) moral courage or certainties of Melville to put into effect. So we wait.

We wait, and we wait. It is part of our aesthetic. Our aesthetic? In a nutshell it is N + 2: mostly cardboard, corrugated iron and plastic sheet assemblage, and waiting, and the idea of ending a story to us is improbable, strange, and rather queer.

Recall the warning of Angela Carter on (Shakespeare’s and other) endings, “Truthfully these glorious pauses do sometimes occur in the discordant narratives of our lives and if you choose to stop and stay there, at such a pause, and refuse to take it any further then you can call it a happy ending.”