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)


 Posted by at 6:19 pm  Echo Effects, Hitting the Potholes, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
Apr 302013

Dear Derek,
The name for a dusty valley, except during the rainy season when the incessant wind ripples through the fresh grass and brief wild flowers like sea waves, and the shepherds bring their sheep up to the high meadows to graze. Do you think we’ll actually be able to recognize each other after all this time, and meeting in such very different circumstances as well so far away from where we were together the last time?

Quite right your suggestion to leave the guns in the car. It ‘s become a moral issue hasn’t it?

An evening a few days ago I was sat in a circle of listeners being told a Brothers Grimm story, The Millers Tale or some such title, about the son of the miller and his wife who at the crisis of the story are swept away by the Nixie spirit of the mill waters, which magically bubbles up and sweeps the man and his wife far, far away on a mighty wave. It was the crisis moment of the story, and retribution time by the Nixie water spirit, and as I listened to the story I thought that you wouldn’t call her power evil, although several people in the storytelling circle that I was sat in did. The Nixie was doing what you would want any LULU to do, or so I thought at the time and continue to think now. Truth will demand her cut.

The story goes on, and it is now many years later since the miller’s son and his wife have been separated by the Nixie. They have both survived, but have had to live their lives apart in strange unknown lands far from their homeland. They’ve both become shepherds, and one year travelling far from where they both live, they enter a dusty valley from opposite directions driving their sheep ahead of them. They both climb to the ridge at the head of the valley to find fresh grass. Seeing each other’s flocks, they go towards each other and meet, and talk and share a meal together over a fire. But irrevocably changed by age they don’t recognize each other.

However, the Grimms Brothers tale is a baroque story and has to end, so at the end of their evening together the miller’s son gets out a flute and plays a tune on it which is known only to his wife. In fact it was she who composed it many years previously, a haunting tune that had finally succeeded in waking the miller’s son from the long enchantment of the Nixie’s embrace (an underwater embrace at the bottom of the mill pond, to which it has to be remembered the Nixie LULU was entirely entitled by a previous oath given by the old miller himself in return for a favour of good fortune from the Nixie just before the birth of his son long, long ago), and produced the crisis of the Nixie‘s righteous retribution after the miller’s escape from the millpond waters. So at last they recognize each other, and that’s where the story ends. All a bit safe and certain.

Hope brought me here, one of them says (and now it is you and I talking together after we have met).
Hope? the other one (the other one of us that is) exclaims, You pay dear for that.

You pay dear for that – like Fred Orpheus, who in the moment of crisis that ends his time on earth has his head cut off. It’s thrown into the river so that only the echo of his last song lingers on in the riverside trees and glades for any passer by to hear. That perfect tune. Strangely I thought of that while I was also being reminded again of the name that Carlo Sebilia (perhaps after the Nixie Sybyl who comes from Campagna) gave in his Letter from Italy for the Parliament in Roma, to which he had been newly elected. “Pandora”, he called it.

Pandora indeed, and I recall again that Carlos’s Letter from Italy last week did also seem full of hope, and, more than that, full of many other optimistic expectations of what happens when “normal humans”, as he put it, become political. And delicious to the ear it was, like Fred’s last song, the echo of an echo of an echo. Nevertheless, before you or I become too “sniffy” about the improbability of the possibility of hope, I recommend a read of this review of the recent book by David Graeber, Debt: The first 5,000 years (2011, New York). The writer of the review repeats Graeber’s quote in the book of an Inuit hunter-gatherer recorded in Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimo:

‘Up in our country, we are human!… And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today, you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs’.

Echo of an echo of an echo… and, yes indeed, for our meeting better that we both come unarmed.

(signed) Bernie

Mar 302013

Like an inhabitant of Novillas (or Buenos Aires), I have begun reading Jacqueline Rose, On Not Being Able to Sleep. In dialogic mode it was only a matter of time before I would begin doing so, but like an inhabitant of Novillas I have lost my memories of why I should have to. Somebody must have mentioned it in passing somewhere. I suppose. I only know I feel compelled.

At the beginning I note the inverted commas in the title to the Introduction: ‘Shame’ . ‘Signifying what?’ I wondered (equally in inverted commas), ‘Including us two naughties, and other literary devices, such as that all us men should be ashamed of ourselves and our history (if we hadn’t forgotten it all)’. Rose’s introduction gives the examples of the 1998 Australian ‘race’ election where the opposing parties competed in shameful exposure, and then all describes the similar process of the South African Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

I also began to think of the 1973 Commission set up in Buenos Aires 1973 under the chair of Ernesto Sabato to preside over the investigation of the fate of the 30,000 disappeared, and the further shameful exposures as/when the bodies buried on the Pamapas came to light (if they ever did).

When we speak our shame, Rose tells us to keep a triptych in mind: shame, disgust and guilt. And not to short circuit the process, stay alert in the tragi-comedy to the moral irony through the full 3 Acts of the opera:  the LULU (say) a free earth spirit woman. Stick with it Rose suggessts, and neither grasp at melancholy (self-abasement as a matter of pride), nor rash acts generally speaking (survival for as long as possible rather than suicide – if possible).

Ja-Was? Bild

 Posted by at 11:07 am  Exodus, OUT in the WILDERNESS, Tonite at the Coliseum  Comments Off
Mar 212013

“Yes What? Picture” is a 1920 work by the German artist Kurt Schwitters – a large painting in oil, cardboard and wood.  As if making a habit for myself, I stood in front of it again this morning for several minutes in Tate Britain, and to remind myself of the meaning of Merz: ‘denotes essentially the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials… a perambulator wheel, wire netting, string and cotton wool are factors having equal rights with paint . The artist creates through the choice, distribution, and metamorphosis of the materials’ Die Merzmalerie (1919, Article written by KS for Der Sturm magazine)… KS later adding elsewhere “deciding for the composition is the rhythm” (1940′s letter while in London).

I am on the clattering train from Waterloo to Southampton, and later tonight  I am going to a performance at the splendidly 1930′s soviet looking Mayflower Theatre building in that city by the sea: Alban Berg’s opera LULU (a brand new production by Welsh National Opera).

LULU – the greatest opera of the 20th Century (some say)!!! Based on an play called Earth Spirit by Frank Wedekind, it is a rise-and-fall story of a very lively/sexually active woman. Berg’s 12 tone radical music has a similar rise-and-fall symmetry, running backwards note for note towards the end in a wonderful  method of recapitulations: the perfect example of the modern coda – full of life – you might say.

Like Schwitter’s Merz work Berg’s music has also had to struggle hard to survive. Banned from Germany, the first performance of LULU was in Zurich in 1937, a few years after Berg’s death from blood poisoning (apparently following an insect bite). It was an incomplete work at that time, and following this performance his widow refused to allow the additional material  which Berg had written to be added to the score. So it was that only after her death over forty years later the premiere took place on 24th February 1979 at the Opera Garnier in Paris (even the BBC felt obliged to put it on prime time TV).

These two naughties were separated by a certain distance (as you advise naughties should always be): as for Schwitters (he neither fits the description of abstract artist or constructivist), “Citizen and Idiot” is how he called himself. Berg might well have used a similar description for himself.

Two naughties and lives of suffering? It was Samuel Beckett who in his study of Proust wrote: ‘The laws of memory are subject to the more general laws of habit. Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantor of  a dull inviolability, the lightning conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is a habit. Life is a habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals… the creation of the world did not take place once and for all, but takes place every day. Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The period of transition that separate consecutive adaptations (because by no expedient of macabre transubstantiation can the grave sheets serve as swaddling clothes) represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being’ (Proust and 3 Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. 1999)

The lives of suffering of those two naughties Schwitters and Berg whether under the jurisdiction of Satan or Christ: considering your description of the new Pope like a ‘Man of Steel’, this of course was also the name Stalin took for himself. The Russian writer Bulgakov would have also especially appreciated this irony, as well as the kindred ironies of artistic pain experienced by Schitters and Berg. And also have praised their spiritual courage. And wished them the peace to be given to any Master.

But for Papa Francesco it is too early to say how the habits of his new clothes and vestments will recreate the habits of the man, or (as Bulgakov would have put it) his spiritual courage.

Mar 212013
Wedekind mit LULU131

‘They stood perplexed in top hats
As if around the carcass of a vulture.
Bewildered crows.
And though they (sweating tears) tried hard,
They couldn’t bury this juggler.’

(From the diary of Bertolt Brecht after Wedekind’s funeral at Waldfriedhof cemetry in Munich): an echo of Oswald von Wolkenstein