Jun 272014
Pix NOTE141 031

‘Writing I believe is a sort of co-production’. In the continuing ficto-documentary spirit of this dialogic project of ours, I now also read and repeat : ‘If it is not fair, it is not Christian either’ (Alan Bennet LRB Vol 36 No 12 19th June 2014).

To begin with: we are all are equal in the sight of God. It is a reasonable idea and one might have a liking for it, as we think how it might help us to prosper at the end if we succeed in living better lives. But as we continue our journey through life with this great-great-grandfather (nineteenth century) proposition of egalitarianism hung around our neck like a dead and rotting chicken, we observe fewer and fewer grounds for believing in it, neither as an objective truth in the world nor as an equal chance in eternal life metaphysically speaking.

Equality. Dare we speak of Luis Suarez, let alone of God? If it is not fair…

If it is not fair, then it is always exceptional. What does the exceptional genius of a young Venezuelan footballer care about fairness or equality? Or an Isis jehadist, or a red-headed ex-Sunday Newspaper editor, or HM British government for that matter – what do any of them care for equality? If you can argue cleverly enough, there are always grounds for making an exception.

What does HE care for equality?

Don’t even ask, you say. But here’s the thing:

“A funny old man of Hot-ass
Refused to make jokes at the Mass.
When asked, Ain’t it odd
Not to chuckle with God,
Said, Yes, it’s quite an impasse. ”

Hilarious Life/Death – I am for full disclosure and Agnes agrees. SHE, in contrast to most of the other implacable divines, is always game for a good laugh, and can be relied upon to bring me to another climax in holograph whenever.

I don’t like growing lists of exceptional States of Emergency whether they involve the toothsome violence of a young football celebrity, or the heavily armed violence of the forces of the constituted State or a would-be Caliphate. Nor does Agnes… and SHE is best not aroused, since an angry Agnes, demons beware of Krodhakali, refuse to make any exceptions – even of God.

No joking, I think somebody should be talking to HIM.

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 .

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 !)

Radical Tradition: Landstreicher

 Posted by at 10:31 pm  Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 092013
Vagrants 1929 by August Sander 1876-1964

There was Vagabond Literature before Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and there always will be; vagrants and tramps who write, and others such as ‘Wolfi Landstreicher’, nom-de-plume of a contemporary anarchist philosopher (who edited a Journal called “Wilful Disobedience” from 1996 to 2005).

Landstreicher / Vagabond brings back to mind the pivotal photograph taken by August Sander (1874-1964): “Vagrants 1929” in which two older men stare back at the camera with an uncanny mix of swagger and shame; two Burger und Hoffmann down on their luck on a country road. Why pivotal? The image marks the end of a mitteleuropa tradition of rags-to-riches/riches-to-rags wandering, including the ending of the contemporary itinerant lives of Joseph Roth and Robert Walser in hotel bedrooms and sanitoria.

For the Anglophone world pitch forward via Beckett’s country road and WG Sebald’s East Anglia (The Rings of Saturn) as well as back to the street-walkers and writers of ‘Strange Cases’ such as Hazlitt, Borrow, Thomas de Quincy, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.

Briefer Expositions

 Posted by at 9:40 pm  Echo Effects, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
Jan 022013
wordstall pipes

Gleaning: experiences from reading Section 62 of Minima Moralia (Theodor Adorno), P 99-101.

‘On rereading Anatole France’s meditative books…

“Some succeed because they are destined to; most succeed because they are determined to.”

“We do not know what to do with this short life, but we want another which will be eternal.”

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” (Le Lys Rouge)

“If the path be beautiful, let us not question where it leads.” – (etc ED) -

…one cannot help feeling an uneasiness – the mode of delivery contains, beneath the poised humanity, a hidden violence: he can afford to talk in this way because noone interrupts the master…

‘…In the detachment necessary to all thought is flaunted the privilege that permits immunity. The aversion aroused by this is now the most serious obstacle to theory – (and to the novel! ED) – : if one gives way to it, one keeps quiet; if not, one is coarsened and debased by confiding in one’s own culture…

‘…The most urgent need of exposition… is to keep such experiences – (fragmented, sectioned, forked, vibrating, pulsating mechanisms ED) – always in view, and by its tempo, compactness, density, yet also its tentativeness, to give them expression.’

Long Lane, SE1

 Posted by at 6:11 pm  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 122012
Rome 014

It was very cold and dark on Monday evening, and heading off east on foot from London Bridge in the fluid continental location of subjectivity, it wasn’t my intention to go as far south as the Bermondsea. But by then I was also becoming hungry, and wherever it was I was meant to be getting to by 7pm – the listening station where I hoped to meet a group of other men for a conversation – there wasn’t going to be time for me to go into a sit-down diner for a meal, but equally I did want to sell myself out to fast food either… ‘Teaching of the good life’…

How long do you stay open, I asked in the only shop whose lights were still shining far down the long lane, Until eight o‘clock Mello replied – short for Camello as I found it. Apart from me, only Italian was spoken inside the shop, and three men were talking together in what seemed to me were strong accents from the South. I am from Milan, Mello told me a little later after two of the men had said their goodbyes and left, But one of my friends was from Rome, he added, and he was telling a Roman joke.

Can you make me a Panini? Sure, choose the loaf you want. Cheese? Pecorino. Toasted, and with some salad and prosciutto. Perfetto. Take a seat, I will bring it over to you when it is ready. Want a coffee afterwards? Certo. Of course.

Moral Irony of this sort is also the kind Theodore Adorno is perhaps using at times in Minima Moralis as he conducts an investigation of modernity in the middle of the twentieth century, and what practices survive of being in community with others, which have otherwise lapsed into “neglect, sententious whimsy and… finally oblivion” (‘Dedication to Max’ P 15).

The morality being described here is perhaps the least possible for us still to be call ourselves human – in the sense that it is a morality can still be recognised as meaning anything, and actually belongs to the category of that thing we call ‘morality’. Adorno’s Minima Moralis is structured in three parts – Part one 1944, Part two 1945, and Part three 1946-47 – and each part is written in a long series of apparently disconnected and fragmented sections in several languages (six in all!). And there are no footnotes.

You might think therefore that the book was an experimental novel. For instance, one section (Part one # 36) has the title ‘The Health Unto Death’. It describes the subtle sickness of psychic economy, a “rash printed on the skin in regular patterns like a camouflage of the inorganic”, whose faint but yet not quite invisible tracery has become taken for normality. Such forms of description are not to be found find in the latest International Directories of Medical Diseases, nor are they generally to be found in the theory sections of psychotherapeutic dissertations or even in the texts of analytic philosophers (those mainly coming from the English speaking world).

But despite its experimentation with subjectivity, Moralis Minima is not a novel, and the “rash” which Adorno describes was his way of trying to describe as precisely as possible the modern day disease processes which have infected mass action (along with mass culture and mass consumption) that have resulted in the complete erosion of the ‘alt-weg’ old ways of collective sacrifice, and their replacement with more and more sophisticated forms of advertising.

Look at me! Look at me! The sandwich boards on our chests and backs cry out (front and back), and perhaps we become drunk with our own words. It is at the extremes of these deeply ashamed disgraces, akin to those of an alcoholic journalistic incapacity of a Joseph Roth, and during other rare and fleeting moments that the objectivity (which also used to be called “class struggle) of the long lane can be retraced.