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.

Santa is Back in Town…

 Posted by at 12:25 pm  Exodus, IN Conversation, Tonite at the Coliseum  Comments Off
Dec 112013

It is that time of year again when some old man with a big beard and a reality problem visits all our homes.

And as we sit around the fire together on dark December evenings, jesting and telling each other stories of death and life, we can hear the whispering of the Ancestors as they draw closer to join us from out of the surrounding shadows.

One of my current favourite stories of Death and Life begins like this:

‘It was a very momentous day, the day on which I was to be slaughtered. (Fear not, have faith!) The king was ready, the two attendants were on hand. The butcher had been ordered for half past six; it was a quarter past and I myself arranged for the necessary preparations. We had selected a spacious hall for the occasion, so that many spectators could comfortably take part in the festivities. A telephone was within reach. The doctor lived next door and agreed to be on call if a member of the audience fainted (etc…)...’

It still has my hairs standing on end – does it yours? – and wanting to read on. To read the rest of this scintillating short story click on –  ‘The Onion (Merzpoem 8)’

The story was written in German by Kurt Schwitters in 1919 – just imagine that; all that time ago and it feels as though it could have been written yesterday! – and the 2010 translation is by Peter Wortsman.

Nov 262013

I was there but I was not harmed, Mr Fox’s Story continues. Sunday a week before last I watched a hare drink beside a common pond*. It was late afternoon and I was in Cumbria over a long weekend with a group of men. We were twelve in all stood in a field, until the hare arrived that is, then we were thirteen which of course disturbed the perfect symmetry of our community you could say.

I came across her – ‘Her’ or was it ‘Him’? I couldn’t say for sure, but I felt her that way, hares being some of my special friends as I like to claim. Well, that is the way I see it, although I have to admit that the community of hares don’t always see it the same way about me. So when she saw me, she slinked off into the shadows of a stone wall.

And I followed as that was expected of me, stalking along the edge of the wall to trying to get up close, until she saw me and moved off again. As that was equally expected of her. And so the hunter and hunted continued, tracking along the square stone walls at the edge of the field, she allowing me close but no closer.

Until listening – there is the quiver of the hare drinking – “a sound sensitive fresh as soft rain upon a leaf” (Llewellyn Powys). I am also told that in a recent issue of the New Scientist it is reported that scientists have agreed that if we were able to stand outside our universe for a moment we would not only be able to see the whole of space and all the galaxies and everything else it contains, but also the whole of time, past and future, laid out in it in its totality in that instance.

Until the hare had turned another corner of the field and I had followed keeping tight to the stone wall so as not to lose her. Then turning the corner myself about ten paces in front of me sat her partner. He was the largest hare I had ever seen. He sat with his powerful back to me, ears erect and whiskers sensing the air, and I could see fine droplets of misty rain sparkling on his perfect brown fur like stars. Drinking.

Go Back, I thought but it was too late.

Drinking by a common pond, and listening to what is happening in the world since it goes on hotting up among us men. That’s the way it feels in ‘mitteleuropa‘ as we say; the pressure cooker is hissing furiously, and lifting her lid a little now and then to leak a little steam.  For instance, I read that last Tuesday Cyclone Cleopatra struck the island of Sardinia, more than 440mm of rain falling in 90 minutes. 18 people were reported dead, many more injured and the President of Italy expressed” solidarity with the communities involved”.

And I am not done with…

And I am not done with my story.

*the common pond:
“I owe it as a human being… to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”
(Jacob Bronowski)

Aug 282013

A “Long Time to Hope” or an account of odd and alien sounds on the Isle of Man: you or I raising our profile might equally end in a spell of internment there too. ‘Man’ – an odd name for an island isn’t it? – the island, not quite amusing enough for a snigger, but certainly some sort of odd or alien sound: Manx – even odder isn’t it? – and the island being the preferred place for German speakers to be sent to during the last war, and others who had raised their profiles.

You speak German? Then off you go! No – Italian then? That’ll do just as well. All aboard the jolly steam boat and off to the callipsy isle in the middle of the Irish Sea.

How about a “sonata of primitive sounds”? Ursonate , subtitled as such, was the name of Kurt Schwitter’s work of art – a poem if you like – which he wrote and performed quite regularly during the years of the Weimar Republic. It became quite famous and was even made into a phonograph, raising his profile further so that it brought him to the attention of the ‘super recogniser’ authorities of his time. The Nazis designated it Degenerate Art, and soon enough Schwitters had to leave Germany in a hurry. First to Norway, but then when the Wehrmacht invaded there he took a boat across the North Sea.

Arriving in Edinburgh: Raise your profile please. You speak German? Aha, then off you go to the Isle of Man!

It took over a year for the British art establishment to persuade the ‘super recogniser’ authorities that Schwitters wasn’t a Nazi, and indeed that he was a leading continental artist. Released to the polite drawing rooms of London’s W1, he performed Ursonate there too. Not much appreciated by the polite after-dinner audience. But no sniggering please…

…as I found for myself listening to a recording of Ursonate being endlessly looped in one of the exhibition rooms of Tate Britain earlier this year. No sniggering among any of us few earnest listeners in the room as we stood looking at a white wall on which some of the joined-up letters of the sonata – I hesitate to call them words – had also been transcribed. Listening a short time before moving on wordlessly into the next exhibition room.

However, I was unable to remain quiet on Sunday reading the memoirs of my 95 year old Ur-mama who had come to lunch. Snorts and sniggers! Early in her 20′s during the first years of the war she found work in the Visa department of the USA Immigration Service, but when she raised her profile and started to speak in German to some of the Jewish and other refugees seeking access to the USA to help them satisfy the strict quotas in force at the time, the British ‘super recogniser’ authorities stepped in.

You could end up in the Isle of Man, a friend told her warning her about odd sounds and alien affiliations. So she had an interesting war, and later was employed listening to German naval radio traffic…

…”A long time to hope” – reading the sections of typescripts of my Ur-mama’s life from 1940 to 1946: a painful story of remorse too, she feels compelled to raise her profile again and wants to publish this section, but her children and grandchildren are not so sure that she should do so. I snort some more.

About Discomfort Zones

 Posted by at 10:56 am  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 232013

Discomfort zones – such as a random line from off the BBC Radio 4 this morning (c. 09.10am): “…Jumble offcuts, what is that going to look like?” A social science researcher is describing the experience of younger people trying to find today’s markers of adulthood: not sex (do it as a teenager), not property (can’t afford to buy), not work (for many)… and not even luxury good items (although most try to do it this way).

Discomfort zones are when to two groups rub up against each other. Two groups or… (say) “two countries that in spite of their similarities have always found it difficult to progress in sync”.

About discomfort zones and jumble off-cuts: I have also just begun reading Geoff Dyer’s Zona… A tall young man comes into a continental coffee bar, takes off his backpack and puts it under a table. He is not the terrorist type, we have to wait to be told. A broken light bulb is waiting to be repaired. The barman is waiting to repair the lightbulb. Or for a customer. It is not accidental, all this waiting, it is the way things are: very continental, very mitteleuropa.

Meanwhile Pinky Cameron in his BIG SPEECH ON EUROPE today says he want his “Comfort Zone” back. He says he wants to feel “comfortable” with his relationship with Europe. He says he wants a proper debate – oh dear, and in such a hurry! – meaning the experience of sleep-walking towards a “happy ending”.

Resist! It is Zona not zone. Put the word out on the street.

Decision Time

 Posted by at 6:17 pm  Catastrophe Games, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 172012

Are we trying too hard to think? In our thoroughly-decent fair-play English way we have always put a high premium on thinking. Yes, there is common sense, but when we have got a big problem like the future of the world, or even a medium sized problem like the future of the United Kingdom, how about doing some superior thinking? How ever much it hurts our heads, how about some intelligence.

Let’s take a medium sized problem like the future of the Health Service. That calls for NHS Intelligence… (Let’s play the Harry Lyme theme now – NHS Intelligence - I kid you not). Now there is a title that makes me smile.

You see I have a theory about the NHS. Composed in the spirit of historical determinism it is called my “Russian/Soviet Army/Hospital Trust Theory” and it goes like this:
Take a large organisation with over 1 million ‘employees’ or ‘people in arms’
+ plus a passionate ideology of freedom for all at the point of delivery (of a bayonet or a needle)
+ plus the need to be in a constant state of decisive change (radical reform or
The outcome (however well intended) is that the organisation moves 50% slower each time a cycle of reform is completed. eg the tank/hospital divisions/services move at 32 kph then 16, then 8… and so on… ad finitum.

Yes, there’s the rub. It is ‘Ad Finitum’ not ‘Ad Infinitum’. Things do not go on for ever, and there is always a cut off point… It was 1989 for the Russian Soviet Army… And it will be a date in the relatively near future for the NHS. It is not a question of whether, simply of when.

The above theory has nothing to do with Right Wing Think Tanks by the way. There is and has clearly been a Tory ideological objective to do away with the NHS for some time under the guise of ‘market reforms’, and if these kinds of people get their way this of course would simply hasten and bring forward the moment of ‘Ad Finitum’.

NO, my theory is based more in the tradition of mind of central european thinking
post-communism… and now (perhaps) post-capitalism. This tradition is embedded in the 200 million people of our european neighbours who live east of Berlin and west of the Urals, people have seen more terrible and violent things in the last 100 years than we in our gentle English isle would ever care to think about or imagine, and experienced  the worst excesses and most ridiculous absurdities of ideological practices of both the Right and Left. In this tradition they have developed the wisdom of being superflous, and a deep knowledge of transience having seen many things come and go. They know the horrors of superior thinking, and they would have little time for NHS Intelligence or UK government’s ‘market reforms’ (if they happened to live in Ukania as opposed to Ukraine). They would in fact be entirely indifferent.

Being indifferent to ‘Decision Times’ is their way of surviving because they know that, whatever is done on their behalf and whatever is changed to improve the system (intelligently or otherwise), they are always the ones who will end up suffering the worse consequences.

They have my entire sympathies… etc…

Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka (The Good Soldier Švejk) knows better; NHS Intelligence indeed!

Jan 102012
Kiosk 33, Hyatt Hotel

“Paradigm Shift?” – I am writing online this morning on my aging notebook, whose battery is failing. Time was when it would hold a charge for two hours, now I am lucky to last thirty minutes. So mostly I keep myself plugged into the mains, and so I thought I was this morning in Camden town at a favoured café with free wifi. Then thirty five minutes into the piece, the screen goes blank. The plug wasn’t in the socket properly I guess. There is nothing to compare with the effect of the totally blank screen, and being brought to a sudden stop; thirty five minutes of occupation killed off in a nanosecond of power failure.

I stop to consider “Paradigm Shift” again, that old gnarled idea for moving back or moving on, and toponomastic inventiveness, like changing the name of a city from Leningrad to St Petersburg, or Pogradec to Perparimi. The latter town is in Albania had its name changed for a time during the second world war when the country was taken over by the Italians and under occupation. Perparimi means “Progress” in Italian by the way. I expect there are many towns and cities in the USA called that too.

I have been in the company of the Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk in London the last two days. It is he who told me about Pogradec’s name change for instance. He also offers me the consolation, brought to a stop as I was by my power failure, from the time when he was last in Albania, and the power cuts lasted twenty out of twenty four hours. It was a long hot summer, and the waters behind the hydroelectric dams in the north of the country had run dry. So in Pogradec, plugged into the wall or running off an aging notebook battery, total power failure was more or less a permanent fact of life.

In conversation with Andrzej it is as if we are strolling on the Corso together, but it is not Italy, we are doing a passagiata far beyond Trieste to the east. I am reading his book Fado (Dalkey Archive Press 2009*), which is categorized by the publishers as ‘Essay / Travel Writing’. The truth is that the writing belongs to neither of these categories however. The pieces are too short and wandering to be considered essays, mostly about one or two thousand words long, and they are written in a style which is less about travel and more about what happen afterwards, and the uncanny experience when everything has been brought to a stop: challenging, amazing and unfamiliar perspectives, they should of course be called feuilletons.

Thus it is that power failures at this precise moment feel far more relevant in their irreversible way to me than the idea of paradigm shifts, which anyway somehow never actually seem to arrive for us in the here and now.

In the company of Andrzej I do not think I have ever found a companion whose writing shows such a close an affinity to the form and practice of serial dialogue we try to follow here. For instance, another piece in Fado is titled Rudñany. “This is a story of Slovakia” it begins. Rudñany exists, this is no fiction I tell myself, it is a village on the Google maps where I have discovered it for myself. Andrzej tells me of the difficulty he has reaching it, the long drive into the mountains along a narrowing valley past rusting factories, warehouses with broken roofs open to the skies, and overgrown railway tracks. He explains that for seven hundred years the mines at Rudñany provided plentiful supplies of silver, copper and mercury, but the mines were closed a few years ago when the seams of ore finally ran out.

After he finally reaches the village Andrzej describes the community of gypsies living there, literally at the bottom of the abandoned and utterly barren mine pit. It is important to add here that for Andrzej gypsies are people of hope, the nomadic tribe of Europe who for nearly a millennium have always possessed nothing and progressed nowhere. Their population is growing he tells me, soon they will be the majority, and perhaps then they will need their own state, he adds. At a certain point he describes the large concrete square at the centre of the closed up mining village where he has stopped. At this moment for truthfulness sake, I feel I must repeat his exact words: “The square was filled with hundreds of people walking about, stopping, and chatting, as if on the Corso.  They had no other occupation and so they were simply spending time with one another.  It looked like an allegory of Sunday or of a holiday in general.  The crowd was animated, dressed up, colourful, and at the same time listless.  No one needed them and so they occupy themselves with each other.  They killed time together.”

“I watched them and imagined the future of the world, with its growing numbers of people of whom it will be said that they are simply superfluous, because there is no work for them, there is no room, no prospects, and actually we are closing up shop just now and don’t anticipate reopening.  Those who arrive late will have to stand or stroll around and talk for whatever time is still remaining, or for eternity, on a concrete square.”

You may perhaps be surprised to hear that Andrzej is not at all a gloomy companion to be with, nor does he have dystopian beliefs or pronounce terrible prophecies. If I was to ask him about paradigm shifts, I think he would shrug his shoulders and laugh, because the fact is he is entirely indifferent to the West and its economical or any other ways of constructing reality. Post communism, and now post capitalism, power failures matter more to him than paradigm shifts – where walking about, stopping and chatting, as if on the Corso, we have no other occupation.

The nobler journey? Yes, Andrzey says at another moment, it is pilgrimage.


* Fado – and book prize winner, joining the several he has won for othere of his works, but Andrzej’s books, although much is now in translation, do not occupy the interest of the western literary press.


 Posted by at 10:05 pm  Catastrophe Games, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 032012
Guest Kiosk

I am sat in the departures lounge of Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, waiting for my connecting flight back to London, heading back to Ukania. The airport cafe’s and shops are all gone and it is a long wait, but I am at ease sat in the stripped back and bare walled halls since I have a strong feeling for time, a strong feeling for its immeasurable length, both for the historical complexity and the particularity of its geographical location.

Where have I been? To Russia. We go to Russia for truthfulness. Time was I was unable to fetishise, but age brings its consolations and I was in transit from the Argentine pampas to… Where was it now? In transit from the Argentine pampas to… (“alone, disconsolate, and in some way, interesting” is one option referred to by Borges in his 1951 essay The Argentine Writer and Tradition).

Ah yes, I remember, to Russia, and now I am heading back to Ukania. Because the political economy of life is laid bare there to the fullest extent, the reality of the extreme gap between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’. I was reading a review of Luke Harding’s new book Mafia State: How one Reporter became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia (Stephen Homes London Review of Books 05/01/12 p23-27), describing the way democracy works in Russia democracy, vyboria bez vyborathe, “elections without a choice”. Go check it out I thought. So I did, voting with my feet through that other option (the other one which Borges had suggested in his 1951 essay) finding: “room for manoeuver and capacity for innovation”.

To Russia looking for truthfulness. And now heading back, I am halfway to London, and I am stopped again at the Tempelhof Airport outside Berlin. Not a living soul around “the will-o’-the-wisps of the dead are glimering; there’s no sign of a living soul around…”. This time it is the Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk speaking (boss with his wife of Czarne Publishing), being like Anselm Kieffer a visitor more than once at Tempelhof, and travelling to places nobody else would think to visit, such as Galicia, and obstinately leaving his words for someone else to find, since nothing is washed away without leaving a trace. Not even there. And not even in Ukania.

And in Ukania, the candles are also being lit by invisible hands for the dead.