Nov 262014
MAX Mug 2014 No1 - Head (Small)

At the BIG Mens Group (Hargate Hall November 13-17) this year I met Tom Falkner for the first time. He and I were in a small (x4 man) group together. Tom is about 70, Canadian, and the father of Rob Falkner. It was his first time at this men’s group. However, it was certainly not his first experience of men’s groups as Tom had been in the thick of them in London in the 1970’s (‘encounter groups’ in those days and more!).

There were many things I immediately liked about Tom, especially:
1. Turning up and being present
2. Being direct (“I can’t understand you Brits when you are are too subtle with your words”, he’d say)
3. Talking about the porous quality of ageing.

It is the last – the porous quality of ageing – which has really struck a chord and lasted with me. Of course when Tom spoke about this aspect of ageing, he was far more direct. “It is about loss and my lack of attention”, he said.
“Loss and different qualities of attention”, I replied and we talked about a question which I have been turning over in my mind: What if the whole of my/our ageing happens for a purpose? Tom and I liked the shift of emphasis.

Loss and different qualities of attention.

Don’t get me wrong, the worst of ageing – decline and the body’s deteriation – is no joke. But what if ageing is also about revealing our true character? This is where we also connect with a porous quality: What if our ageing is about becoming leaky for a purpose? Leaking in, and leaking out energy and passion to colour the world bright.

(“And her dark pubic hairs”)
Before we parted Tom and I agreed to continue to explore this further together, and under the above call-sign (NB: including the brackets). (“And her dark pubic hairs”) – the phrase comes from Norman Mailer’s 1984 novel Tough Guys Don’t Dance. For more see

Leaking in: a voice has also told me recently to ask for help – “Help us to all tell our stories”, it told me to say. We invite others to join us in the exploration of loss and different qualities of attention. And using different kinds and forms of ficto-documentary activity* .The voice went on, try face to face, on paper, privately and publicly, and online. Here is a recent example of one storytelling style:

“But the histories are rubble now and mostly lost in time, and there are only a few surviving fragments of individual stories, broken narratives, a dusty blue atmosphere of men’s past sadness, and a few lasting things like photographs”.
This is a sentence I wrote recently from out of one of three stories I have to tell about men in my family who mean the most to me – Grandfather, Father, Brother. See previous post and below to find out the blogs where you can read them and more.

* On Loss and Different Qualities of Attention: different kinds of ficto-documentary activity

- “Ageing is no accident” Theory
David Hillman. Force of Character, and the lasting life (1999)

- Who Are You?
Grayson Perry at the National Portrait Gallery (until 15th March 2015, FREE Admission)

- Blogs and ‘CAT and the Listening Tree’ websites to listen to stories and share our own

Aug 212014

“I am ready to take the stand”, the middle-aged man said in a gesture of willed objectivity which reminded me of the work of another writer, George Perec. Not Life A User’s Manual. No, nothing so large, I was being reminded of a minor, mostly forgotten piece called Espece d’espaces written by Perec in 1974. The work is less than 100 pages in all, and is to be found in the ficto-documentary collection called Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (tr John Sturrock, 2008).

Perec begins Espece d’espaces with a Foreword. The first sentence goes like this, “The subject of this book is not the void exactly, but rather what there is round about it or inside it (cf fig 1)”. Figure 1 itself is printed on the front papers of the book before the contents and the foreword. The Figure is called ‘Map of the Ocean’, and consist in a drawing of a square on an otherwise blank page, except for the title underneath and then under that in brackets ‘(taken from Lewis Carroll’s, Hunting of the Snark)’.

As much as I know already from this beginning that this is an autobiographical work which Perec is giving in to, so too I knew that the sentence spoken by the middle-aged man was also the beginning of his autobiography. He himself is the subject. Of course like Perec no facts about his life will be revealed, but he will be telling what is round about it or inside it.

Giving in to becoming the subject, and it will seem to us is that it is a void. But not exactly because in this autobiographical work by Perec or a middle-aged man we are already aware of some things. For one thing we are aware of his absence. He is absent from the story, and this has already created an intensely sad atmosphere (what we know from Perec’s life: he was a Parisian Jew born in 1936, whose father enlisted as a soldier and was killed in action by the time he was six and his mother murdered in Auschwitz before the end of the war). He will not provide this information, nor he will add to or adorn his account with any other biographical details because he is confident we already know this sadness simply having opened the cover and turned the blank front pages, perhaps not even noticing the Figure 1 in the first instance.

So too the middle-aged man’s remark, “I am willing to take the stand”. As if written at the start of a foreword to his own work of autobiography, and I know already that nothing will follow, that no narrative will be provided, and no life story is to be told. There is the same absence as with Perec. And there is the same oceanic quality of sadness as in the front papers of Espece d’espace, because he has already told all the information about his life that it is necessary to know. Oceanic, and the sadness seems all in shadows, but just as Perec account of Espece d’espace unfolds, when we look closer and listen deeper what is around about it or inside it is suffused with lightness and with light.

(Espece should have a grave accent on the middle ‘e‘ . Please who can show me the key to write this?)

Mar 262014
Harry K sat in a chair142


“Still in the East, yet in the West. Us in the East, them in the West; us in the West, them in the East, from one system to another. Is it another system? How so? Why have I come here? There’s no way back! Time stands still and yet continues. This is a new identity.” (A.R, Penck)

Harry Kratchnikov explores a NEW IDENTITY: Pix NOTE141 024

(This is not PLAYED (or photographed) STANDING ON OUR HEADS)






British Museum, Room 90: Six prominent German artists of the 1960’s and 70s – Georg Baselitz, Markus Lupertz, Blinky Palermo, A.R, Penck, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter
Germany divided Baselitz and his generation.

Feb 042014
Uruguay's president José Mujica, a former guerrilla, at the farm he prefers to presidential palace

From Prognostication for 1533: “I do warn you one thing, however, if you fail to believe it all, you are doing me a bad turn for which you will be grievously punished. So now, my little lads, wipe your noses, adjust your glasses and weigh well these words…”
“…old age will prove incurable this year.”
(from Chapter 3)

How vulnerable ageing apples look. Those that were picked in time and not left to rot on the ground that is. Laid on wooden racks in a cool outhouse their skins have become wrinkled and dark blemishes have appeared. Some have begun to brown near their stalks. Their heads and tails are going soft.

The argument over the colour green which Piet Mondrian set off probably continued among other artists of the mid twentieth century. For and against. Was it an artistic argument over representation and abstraction? Or between the play of shadow and the light?

The ageing apples are squishy, soft and vulnerable. More or less like us. However, their sweetness remains. Indeed it has increased with maturity. They have lost their crispness and firmness, and some have begun to fur. But no loss of taste.

The argument about insecurity also continues. Does vulnerability equal insecurity? And are both equally good for us in fact as we age? Beneficial to the older life well lived. When it comes to the growing insecurity of people in work, there is a strong case to be made against. Check out Guy Standing, The Precariat: the New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury Academic, London.

The evidence of an emerging class is that with every recession since the 1970′s, lengthy episodes of high unemployment, privitisations and public sector cutbacks have served to weaken the position of labour. Flexibility is the neo-liberal word to mask a programme of increasing insecurity: working people have to learn to be more flexible. It is like some queer yoga. Standing’s book argues the effects among what he calls the new Precariat Class are “four A’s: anger, anomie, anxiety and alienation”.

Precarious. From the Latin precari: to beg, pray, entreat – be unstable, exposed to danger, with uncertain tenure. Insecure. Does that mean the same as being vulnerable?

I am no visual artist and, like the argument over the colour green, I’ve not lifted a paint brush to read the actual book. I’ve only gleaned these thoughts from the Jan Breman review in the latest NLR . Jan argues that the Precariat Class is a phony idea, and there is a far bigger perspective than the Anglo/Euro-phone speaking developed world: ‘according to the 2013 Global Employment Report on “vulnerable employment”, only 3% (some 47 million out of a world total of 1,539 million) are to be found in the developed countries, including the US and EU, compared to 247 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 405 million in East Asia, and 490 million in South Asia’.

In other words, there are many different ways to experience insecurity (and many paths of insecurity’s historical development). As when one of the little lads pipes up in the orchard and says, please but ivy is as good as any old apple tree. Category errors like these between vulnerability and insecurity play havoc with the bees. Total hive collapse can result.

As in human society for bees and for apples there are many kinds of insecurity. Ageing fruit will all become equally wrinkled and vulnerable to decay. How about saying that vulnerability and insecurity are two different kinds of seeing green?

Or asked another way what kind of apple would you prefer to have as your head of state? My answer is to be found above in the picture of Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay, in his dressing gown. He has reached 78 years old, and he has got his ageing teeth into an apple. His apple is my choice to be President of Ukania.

A Prognostication for 2014: “Insecurity will prove incurable this year”. Here is a story of an ageing man who lives in increasing vulnerability, and spends all his waking hours and energies getting his teeth into opposing insecurity. If you fail to believe me you will be grievously punished.

Not in Our Life Times!

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Dec 042013

The lost book has been found, the last writings of Walter Benjamin! It is out: Charles Baudelaire: Un poeta lirica nell’ eta del capitalismo avanzato (in Italian and edited by Giorgio Agamben and others). I gasped as I read that it has been out since December 2012, (London Review of Books Vol 35, No 22 (21 November 2013), P 21-22).

I am even more shocked to read that the missing manuscript was found over 30 years ago, since Uncle Wally for many years was wont to whisper in my ear that it was in the black briefcase which he always carried with him. And there were plenty of other eye-witness reports who would swear an oath to say that was true, and that they saw him with it when he fled Paris and on his way to the Pyrenees. That was Susan Sontag’s view too as I have it from what she wrote, and the idea of the loss of his briefcase in which were contained his last written words in 1940 had entered into a kind of folklore of our imaginations that had added to the poignancy of his failed walk to freedom, and the desolation of his subsequent suicide on the border between France and Spain.

I am shocked with the cold water of disillusionment, and the awakening to the ‘now of knowability’, as Uncle Wally is wont to say .

The allegorical element of history does provide us with a necessary context (Theses on the Philosophy of History) and corrective – the hare drinking pauses to observe. But that hysteria over, another expands as I realize that there is no English translation, nor likely to be one soon (apart from the Italian version, the German edition is not now expected until 2016 at the earliest). I begin to calculate my years, and distantly consider how the delay to the ‘now of readability’ for the anglophone world of this last book may continue long past my own sell by/read by date.

So I die and I don’t die.  Slowly re-awakening to life the hare resumes drinking from the “common pond”.

What is meant by the phrase “common pond”? One might say that the pond is no larger than a tea saucer or even less, sufficient to be scooped up and fill the palm of our left hand. Tradition, as Uncle Wally might have added if he were here at this moment, has it that we are extending the fingers of our hand in a gesture where simultaneously the index finger points towards a recollection of death, Momento Mori, the middle finger is reaching forward in vulnerability to meet with you in the strangeness of all our differences, the ring finger is for the recollection of our breath, and the last finger is for the recollection of our bodies, including the elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Here begins ducks and fishes and all creation. And it is equally right to say that we will not be here to see the end of this beginning.

Naples, Nil Square

 Posted by at 2:50 pm  Echo Effects, Holy Fool/Hero, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Oct 022013

It is Italy, but not as we know it. Out of time and space, we’ve been some days in the city that was previously called “Nilsense” by its founders who came from Alexandria and settled here.

The story is of a credit card lost somewhere on the way to the centre of Naples, while strolling on a Sunday morning among the crowds. Theft in Naples – Nothing new about that, you think, it goes with familiar descriptions of the city; a reputation for more than its fair share of vagabonds, thieves and robbers. And it is true, the city is outlaw, anything can happen here, and it often does.

Mercurius – the quick loss, and with it the feeling of an equal loss of all reasons to have faith in the “good faith” of others. It was Sunday morning and we had been to the Chapel of San Severo. The world famous Chapel is known for its extraordinary baroque works carved in white marble, but it is not Enlightenment sculpture as we know it. The central body of Christ appears to continue to wrestle with death under a pure gossamer thin shroud.

The Christ sculpture is surrounded by other figures of a strange new wisdom. I stopped for a time before a lifesize figure of a naked man wrestling to emerge from – or is it to disappear under? – a thickly corded fishing net. A youthful naked angel holds the net’s edge, and I was unable to tell whether his purpose is it to pull back or to cover the naked man more completely. The creation is called Disignano -’disillusion’ (carved by Francesco Querilo, 1753-54) – and at the same time fills the viewer with curious illicit desires. It is no wonder the works of the Chapel’s creator Prince Raimondo di Sangro (1710-71) were called ‘a sink of all heresies’ by the 18th Century church, and he a sorcerer. I bought two postcards of this ambiguous work on the way out, but am unsure if I will ever send them, or to whom.

DCIM100MEDIAIt now feels close to, but not yet quite at the Axis Mundi, and after leaving the Chapel we made our way towards the Piazzetta Nilo (Nil Square), dawdling at several shops selling strange artefacts, and then stopping at the time-worn ancient monument, said to be more than 2000 years old and which the city’s founding colony erected as a homage to the River Nile.

We stop and stare up at the nearly naked bearded old man, wrinkled and ravaged by time, who is lying on a rock with a horn of plenty in his right hand. A broken sphinx supports his upper body, and his feet rest on the body of a crocodile, although both the heads of the sphinx and crocodile are now missing.

Having arrived at this “Nilsense” centre – afterwards the worst is the attempt to telephone the Bank and report the credit card lost or stolen. The conversation with the 24 Hour Call Centre seems to go on for ever and at the end finishes in disillusion, thwarted by the apparent parallel loss of our online identity to the Bank. There is no record of who we are, and so nothing can be done to cancel the card.

Disignano – our fear-filled imaginations are filled with pictures of a cornucopia of spending now taking place, a terrifying unstoppable wave spreading out from the crocodiled feet of the old man in Nil Square.

It is only one hour later, when we receive an email from our B&B owner. Have we lost a credit card, she asks. Somebody has found one near to a bus stop, and taped it to the outside window of a local B&B. It is a different residence to the one we are staying at, and its owner seems to have telephoned round other local places to ask if anyone with our name is staying. Later on the card is given to our B&B housekeeper who walks over to collect it, and it is returned to us at the end of another stunning weekend in Naples.

Piazzetta Nilo – showing us how happiness is lost and found in “Nilsense”. Meanwhile, back in the rest of Europe the same weekend I read that Mark Rutte, the Liberal Prime Minister of Holland has announced his new centre-right government’s intention to aboliish the welfare state. ‘The classical welfare state is slowly evolving into a “Participatory Society”, he states in the speech from the throne, ‘one, that is, where citizens will be expected to take care of themselves or create civil-society solutions for problems such as pensions, or welfare’.

The Dutch Socialist party leader Emile Roemer had the following reaction to this announcement, ‘This isn’t going to make anybody happier’, he says.

Jul 162013

Something was missing that is for sure… when you said a photograph was supposed to be there: a dark room image enters and (joining Dr Bobomka? Who knows…) slides into a corner lurking in the shadows of the long conversation.

One day the world may thank you and I for continuing to struggle with these ‘Difficult Communications’. How come difficult?  Researchers of what are called  ”socially situated interactions” commonly apply the difficult word to situations where one or other or several of those involved in a conversation are apparently or actually disadvantaged in one way or another. It could be that some or all of us are deaf or dumb. Or simply more like us trying to communicate with each other, it could be we are wrestling with the dumb technology of the blogosphere.

For shared understanding to take place, social representation theory researchers argue that these disadvantages make communications difficult and result in every speaker having to project meaning through more than their voice, and every listener having to reach share understanding through more than their ears. The deaf and dumb may use their hands to communicate, or writhe, grimace and mouth words. Then there is also the keyboard on which words can be written – like here. And images and drawings and so on. How porous all shared understanding becomes as meaning leaks across the boundaries of our physical bodies and minds, shared space, and those of culture and history!

Of course it is complex – and objects are more about interdependence than identity. Back to the deal about ‘Appiness. You are right, as an object there is more to it than money and sex, ‘tho both those also have the dynamic qualities to place us on the spectrum between the polar extremes of Happiness and Misery. That is where the cheeky-chappy ‘Appiness resides: somewhere in between, freeze dried from time to time as it were so we can catch a glimpse of ‘im, like in these periodic communications as well.

From the position of epistemic trust in the shadows the impartial Dr Bobomka gives a little cough. I am told that he has many influential continental friends… among whom:

Ivana Markova and for useful introduction on Dialogue and Dilaogicity (2013 Interview)
Serge Moscovici
Mikhail Bakhtin

“For a human being there is nothing more terrible than a lack of response” (MB)

The Issue is Happiness (Part 204)

 Posted by at 6:51 pm  Exodus, IN Conversation, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Jul 102013
Guest Kiosk

Like Scozia, Africa is also far away. But sometimes there is no alternative and we have to go there in order to meet somebody we have to face-to-face because, you are absolutely right, email, social media, text, mobile, or Skype won’t do.

Think back to Scipio Africanus and the glories of Rome: first stop Carthage, then on to Libya, Egypt and Abyssinia. I remember when I was also face to face with the relics of Mussolini’s more recent Italian imperial dreams. It was not so long ago – a meeting with the fanciful archaeological reconstructions of the imperial baths in the great imperial city of Leptus Magna, the ruins being exposed from under the centuries of sand on the Libyan coast. In other words on this occasion it was a fascist deal.

Or think of dealing with Dr Bobomka!

The deal? It is never just about the money, although of course the price also matters. Of course it does, but  truly said the money is mostly about good manners. Whether in the souk in one of the cities of Mahgreb or on the west coast of Scotland, it is the business of showing mutual respect. Haggle over the deal because, buyer or seller, you and I are coming from strangely different positions. That is what the conversation is for – a long conversation by the way.

A Long Conversation… reading Adrienne Rich Later Poems, I’ve reached the years 1997-98, that being the dateline for a long poem (P53-69 in Midnight Salvage) with that name at its title, including these lines:
“…pierced, jammed, scratched out.
bans, preventive detention, broken mouths,
and on the scoured bench sequestered
a human creature with bloody wings
its private parts
still trying to speak…” (P. 58)

If you still don’t believe me, just ask yourself what is the money for. The money is for more than for buying a few overpriced ice creams at a top table restaurant, or a week at a seven star palace in an exclusive resort. Don’t be lazy about money! Be bold, because you too are here to do the deal with someone (maybe this time it is with Dr Bobomka himself)! If you can’t understand that, like the proverbial jackpot Lottery Prize winner you’ll be rags to riches, and, just deserts, quickly back to rags in a trice.

Take heed of the warning, if there isn’t a real story behind the deal, the money soon runs out. Valeria Ugazio talks about the “semantic possibilities” – but it is more graspable if we call them  ‘Permitted Stories, Banned Stories’, as her book (2012) is titled in Italian. For the deal to work there is always a formation of mind involved Valeria explains. For instance, at Leptis Magna where the fascist Italian archaeologist worked in the 1930,s – or for Scipio Africanus millenia before – the preferred story is one of power.

For others the deal is about Freedom. This is my preferred construction as it happens, and where many of my real stories are to be found. You’ll have noticed I expect and that I’ve been exploring the polar opposites of freedom: courage/boldness, cowardice/timidity. “Contraries [… ] are yet the life of one another” (says Sir Thomas Browne, Pseudoxia (1646)) . Valeria Ugazio quotes Sir Thomas in her work which explores four different co-positions of person to person, face-to-face meetings, the strangeness of our conversations with somebody who is neither totally honest nor a liar, and the both terrifying and beautiful struggle to overcome our differences.

And remember in the deal: Since you are still trying to speak…

… the issue still is Happiness