Being Even More Brazilian – ARCHIVE

 Posted by at 10:42 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Aug 222012

For your ‘Protest Songs’ autobiography follow the headings Formation, Fame, Fall (imprisonment), Exile, Return, and finally Memoir.

FORMATION. Are you one of the ’64 Generation’? Or is your founding year 1968? Or maybe later? My formation year was ’73 (September 11 to be precise): Verdade Tropical [1.], Tropical Truth.

For Tropicalismo, the iconoclastic musical and countercultural force that flourished in Brazil at the height of the dictatorship in the 1960’s and 1970’s, 1964 was ground zero. This was the year of the US backed military coup, which became the blueprint for others that followed later, and the ideological testing ground for the new political bipolarity (authoritarian government in a constant state of emergency against the invidious forces of social democracy and all those others who “spend our money on other people”).
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“That Most Terrible Pong”*

 Posted by at 10:17 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Jun 262012

OR – A Taxonomy of Malodours in the Context of Vagabond Literature- since Vagabond Literature, you might think and possibly agree, sort of defines our territory. And it is a surprisingly sparse territory according to my latest Google search, The Vagabond in Literature (Arthur Compton Rickett, London 1906) being the most recent contribution to the outlaw corpus. Then perhaps good outlaws are always invisible. Unlike Cosmopolitan Literature, or Flaneur Literature (or Bohemianism) which you will see on full view everywhere – you will find the shelves stacked – Vagabond Literature is out of place and abroad – Mal-arias -

1. Funny Smells:
Nasty pongs as well as being offputting on the dancefloor are also invisible (except perhaps if you are a syneasthesist) jests.

2. Bad Smells:
Those from off the old, which result in the destruction of the young. While we are referring here to the lessons of history, we are also speaking in the present tense: go to the Robinson Institute if you prefer examples and argument from the leftist end of the spectrum (remember those meteorites, the xenoliths, to which I referred last week), or listen to Professor Neil Ferguson, who is giving the 2012 Reith Lectures currently on BBC Radio 4 if you prefer talk from the rightist end (so far I've only listened to the first one, The Human Hive). The bad smells of history are all pervading regardless of political persuasion, corrosive from every viewpoint, as even the great Slavov Zizek wryly admitted recently, "We - by which he meant the old -are visiting destruction upon the young" - through debt, global warning… the long litany goes on and on.

3. Fishy Smells:
These are Strange Cases (the – inverted commas - 'Strange Cases' to which I have also referred before, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) which are difficult to classify. Like missing persons: go to the Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012 for a taster. Or visit the asylums of the insane.

4. Foul Smells.
Disloyalty - The foul smell of a traitor – the very worst of smells. As Somerset Vaughan sort of once said, "You must absolutely be disloyal to be good writer".

We constantly meet with examples of all these terrible smells in Vagabond Literature:
    'Bon Soir. Je m'appelle Max, je suis soixante-un ans, j'ai des cheveux brun avec du gris, et court – not long like your pony tail. The tall strongly built Frenchman sits at the table in front of me with his back to me, his large black T shirt filling my vision. je porte un chenise blu d'azzur – light blue – nous sommes le meme. It is what you would call a cultural exchange. Cosmopolitan.
   'The man stands up and takes a white walking stick in his right hand and put his left hand on his wife's shoulder as she leads him towards the kebab restaurant door on a street south of Victoria station in London, but even so he stumbles on the step. No, he says to me in English, we are not the same.
    'There is another group of three people behind where I am sitting, two men and a woman who are also now blind to me. Then a waif Spanish chick girl comes to sit on the next door table with her lover, who may also be her father, he has grey hair, and – now I am thinking what I am writing – I am not the same.
    'Her long dark hair is platted tightly in a pony tail, which, lying over her shoulder, she strokes gently with the fingers of both hands, as if it is living like a cat. She wears a small white cotton top with thin straps over her bare skin, and large glasses with black rims. They order their meal, and – respetto – it is time for me to leave.'

* That Most Terrible Pong -
"That most terrible drug – ourselves – which we undertake in solitude" Walter Benjamin, Protocols on the Experiments with Hashish…


Wall to wall joys of monarchy

 Posted by at 9:30 am  Atelier, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 092012

The ogres of monarchy must be very pleased with their recent efforts; success beyond their wildest dreams. And there was plenty of rain to test their stolid and plucky English pride.

Once, halfway through the journey of our life

I found myself inside a shadowy wood,

Because the road had disappeared.

                    This is Sean O'Brien's opening of his translation (2006) of Dante's Inferno.

According to his introduction O'Brien had the idea that translating Dante was a necessary rite of passage. Though I haven't yet heard that Ivor Cutler had a go at it. Something or other brought Cutler to mind a few days ago – was he mentioned on the radio? Prior to that he had seemingly slipped into the category of the forgotten. In the Poetry Library I discover they have quite a number of his books. One I pick out is The Flat Man, though the F has been turned back to front. And there is a photograph of the author in a white singlet and a black flat cap. His mouth is clenched – about to burst into laughter? eyeing you, the reader or potential reader. The book is dated 1977 but reissued in 1997. Some years ago I stood next to him at the desk of the Poetry Library. He was dressed in what I saw as a poet-arch-bishop's regalia. A lilac jacket, flower in his hat. He asked me if I was a poet. I refused that identity but did admit that I wrote the occasional poem. He gave me his mystical blessing. In remembering this, it brings to mind a more recent occasion when I asked Paul Muldoon to sign one of his books – he too, peered into me, examined me to see what I might be made of, what words I might be made of.

It's what we are always doing; chasing words that we might make use of.

Ivor Cutler's Lean

People lean back in


But only

if the the chair

has a back.

Backless chairs –

or stools

as we call them –

are suitable

only for leaning

forwards –

or sitting bolt upright.

You would think that

people who really wanted to lean


would use

a stool.

I first heard of Ivor Cutler listening to John Peel – so long ago, it must have been a previous life – and I think Peel must also have been a fan of John Cooper Clark who's been featured on the tv recently.

Incontinent; malicious; bestial;

And mad; – and how incontinence offends

Our maker less, and this incurs less blame?

                (from Canto XI)

What sort of thing was punk? I barely noticed it at the time but have been woken to its excitement through reading Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces. It is linked in to what he calls The Secret History of the Twentieth Century – the Dadaists, the Lettrist International and the Situationists. Those who don't sign up to the dominant narrative. Pina Bausch's work is in that other tradition, insisting on the authenticity of her view, creating a radical way of working that is challenging and painful, was slow to be accepted but now (a couple of years after her death) is wildly acclaimed. On Wednesday evening after being captivated and beaten up by her company's performance of Victor, the audience (including me of course) gave them a long and well deserved standing applause. Détournement as Guy deBord put it.

Pina Bausch's way of working, her using her company through close and personal questioning to arrive at movements and words that are gradually turned into the performance. Seeing the dancers/actors is to see the process – a sort of psychoanalysis – and it makes sense of the hearing about the close attention that Pina gave as a child (from under a table) to the various adults who stayed at her parent's boarding house.

In a recent dream I was teaching a class (young adults) about certain aspects of language (though what exactly has not been retained) when suddenly I am facing a rebellion. There is a young woman who is angry at what she sees as poor teaching and she demands to hear from her fellow students whether or not they have learned anything at all from the class. In those moments of rising into wakefulness from the dream I have the impression that the general consensus is NO.

Threads and Traces

 Posted by at 11:39 am  Atelier, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
Jun 012012

I think of networks of nerves and blood vessels, I think of love that touches and enables new organisation to take shape, I think of a sheep trapped in barbed wire; the paths that open out into the journey and those that apparently come to what we call a ‘dead’ end. A few weeks ago I could not help but notice the body of a black cat killed by the rushing of motorised traffic as I cycled out, vulnerable, myself, to the possibilities of the same fate. A mile or two of A road before I can dive off into the network of lanes that connect farms and hamlets, wriggling and clinging up hill and down dale; a maze to disorientate, to visit sleepy hollows, and present new and surprising vistas that I didn’t know existed. The black cat’s cadaver was in the middle of the carriageway, recognisably cat-like, but it wasn’t long before it was flattened, bones crushed, soft tissue squeezed out, perhaps nibbled by creatures that have a taste for that sort of carrion fast-food – crows and the like. Then a couple of weeks later it looked like a scrap of fur rug and by this time it had moved (been moved?) into the edge of the road, more or less right in my path and finally in the last week or two all that remains are three or four scuffs of black something-or-other across the white line; something that I no longer bother to avoid. A mere trace of something that had lived and breathed and been loved.

    Earlier this morning I read Paul Durcan’s The Road to Vétheuil 2009 (from Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have My Being)  and loved how it traces a path of love from walking ‘downhill to the village’ to the opening of the door and ‘we embraced and we burst out laughing.’ And the final six lines:

        ‘We stood face to face, talking nonsense,

        Not having seen one another for six months.

        Delighted to be doing that, and that only,

        And not being expected to do or say anything else

        But simply to be there and nowhere else

        Piping absolute, pure, spontaneous song.’

    Alain Badiou (In Praise of Love) writes (something else I read this morning): ‘ . . . between May ’68 and the Eighties . . . I developed the political conviction I have remained implacably loyal to and for which “communism” is one possible name. But I then equally structured my future life around processes of love that were by and large definitive. What came later, of the same order, was illuminated by that inspiration and its enduring nature . . . That was really the moment when, in between politics and love, my life found the musical chord that ensured its harmony.’

    The image of the project that we call life that is suggested by Badiou's words is that of a musical instrument (take your choice of instrument!). We are given the rough outline and we struggle daily and in our dreams at night to refine the trumpet or violin, to clarify what sort of instrument it is, learn to play it, engage with our resistances – when the teacher says sing, well, sing for God’s sake . . . but no, I can’t, I won’t, leave me alone, I’m in too much pain, I’m too distracted.

    And here is Tonto peering at the traces, the hoof print in the soft earth, the broken twig. He’ll know which we must go


Stranger and Stranger

 Posted by at 10:38 am  Atelier  Comments Off
May 292012

"Boredom is the dreambird that hatches the egg of experience" (W Benjamin, The Storyteller – Illuminations (New York 1968), P 91). There are exercises for keeping our eyes open, awake, and alert to what is emerging out from what was not there to begin with when we began looking; the Where's Wally illustrated books for example, which we used to pore over with our children before bedtime, looking for the bespectacled black-haired smooth-faced Wally in the huge crowds.

We explored the picture book landscapes in which all those people were moving, looking for the one, the case, the exception, the singular. Or the strange: such as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in literature, and in history. Cases of exception, or anomalies (NB see the review of Carlo Ginzburg, Threads and Traces: True, False, Fictive in the LRB 26 April 2012).

Cases of exception, or States of Emergency. On the one hand, there is the biopolitical discourse of Agamben et al, examining the history of "outlaw". On the other hand, there is the lawyer Utterton in Stevenson's evegreen novel attempting to describe Edward Hyde to himself after his first meeting, but being unable to find afequate words for the man, who is not so much misshapen as the personification of exception. "A man who is a disgrace" Utterston thinks to himself, or a perversion – as a legal man would describe "the perversion of the course of justice".

Perversions, cases of exception, including also those who are – or believe themselves to be – above the law or beyond it, whether politically, medically, economically, or socially; we will see how Rebekkah and her clan make out when they have their day in court… meanwhile Tony Blair smoothies his way through the Leveson Inquiry cross-examination, and we remember what a consumate performer he is and was.

Why does this all matter? It matters in the strange case of our moral imagination, here and now in the middle of the flag-waving crowds with all their current versions of scepticism – late philosophical relativism, negationism, barbarism – "What is Fiction? What is Non-Fiction?" versions. Because it matters to be able to detect the difference between fact and invention (including epistemiological questions and issues to do with methodology).

An intense "subjectivity" (in inverted commas as Joseph Roth put it in one of his 1920's letters to an aspiring feuilleton writer); personal experience as a cognitive instrument. Another way of putting it? Here's Willy:
"I was sitting in a lunchroom in new York having my doughnuts and coffee. I was thinking that one does feel a little boxed in New York, like living in a series of boxes. I looked out of the window and there was this great big Yale (mover's) truck. That's cut-up – a juxtaposition of what's happening and what you're thinking of. I make this practice when I walk down the street. I'll say, when I got to here I saw that sign; I was thinking this, and when I return to the house I'll type this up. Some of this material I use and some I don't. I literally have thousands of pages of notes here, raw, and I keep a diary as well. In a sense it is travelling in time.
Most people don't see what is going on around them.That's my principal message to writers: for God's sake, keep your eyes open. Notice what is going on around you."
William S Burroughs, The Art of Fiction, No 36 (Paris Review, 35, Autumn 1965).

Moral Imagination: Threads and Traces (Carlo Ginzburg), Lines (Tim Ingold), cut-up boredom in Uncle Wally or Cousin Willy's magic encyclopaedias, criss-crossings time and place (the great slabs of time under pressure), hatching the data sets, dialogues, a songthrush singing in the trees behind Camden Road in north London, handwritten pages of notes, personal journals, saved files, online articles, half-read books on the bedside table…

There we were, walking . . .

 Posted by at 4:53 pm  Atelier, Fundamental Perversions  Comments Off
Apr 052012

Of course you should have been tipped out of your hammock, dreaming in that brief but welcome sunshine of early spring. Tipped out to suffer minor abrasions and some bruising; although we can never be quite sure to what degree you will wake up. What sort of waking up could we hope for? Even at your great age! The apprentices had gone wild, running amok. In the past it would have been safe to assume their gender/sexual identity – young men longing for a sight of a young woman – but let’s not make any assumptions in that direction. Let us simply assume the rising sap of spring, the spring in the step of those young apprentices, let loose; what were the authorities thinking of, taking their eye off them, indulging in lazy lunches with bottles of strong red wine that appeared as if my magic amidst the mounds of succulent dishes on the increasingly stained white table cloth. A slurring of words, coarser humour, raucous laughter leading to amorous fondlings or simply sleep.

    There we were, walking with little thought of direction or destination and there’s a point when the legs are tired after many miles, perhaps the feet are sore, and hunger begins to gnaw at the belly. My thoughts are worn thin and few coins sit in my pocket. Is that the junction of paths where I espy a tantalising beauty? Perhaps there will be no going back. Already the myriad paths behind me are shifting, bending their way to a new tune, new possibilities, forcing a future that I didn’t know I wanted. A glimpse of beauty has me by the nose. Sweetness beckons me into the dance to the tune of the dazzling, rippling of the stream.

    But my steps are clumsy and unwelcome as I lurch across the green sward. I would grab but she’s gone on the lightest, fleetest of feet. My tiredness forgotten as I give chase – there is no chance that she’ll get away, evade the passions that suddenly command me; leave me no choice.

    I must enter the trap or die in the effort. The waters that close over my head are sweet and welcome.

    Or I could just walk away. Sorry, darling, I’ve got an urgent appointment. And I will jump into my BMW something-or-other and roar away, tyres squealing, back wheels drifting out in the loose gravel.

Or I could just walk away. After all, it’s where we started: walking. This fact of walking I was reminded of by the piece, in last Saturday’s (31.03.12) Guardian Review, by Will Self. He’s become a spokesman for walking, even quoting Rebecca Solnit who we discovered and valued several years ago. Of course, we were also reminded of our shared history of walking by the film Patience (after Sebald) which we both mentioned on this scroll recently. How far does the average European (let alone North American) walk these days? I mean in the course of their day-to-day life. We’ve been busy creating lives that exclude the possibility. Will Self mentions that a hundred years ago 90% of Londoners walked their journeys if they were less than six miles. It’s a great loss.


Apr 032012

A boggy patch of Dartmoor? It certainly feels damp and wet under me, and Schubert's music from the wind-up radio has not stopped playing about my ears, and green-minded, but the temperature and humidity appears to have risen considerably since last we met and spoke here a week ago. We seem to have progressed to another location.Where? Well, it could be below (or is it above?) the Tropic of Capricorn, since – My. My… – you have been busy during the intervening period! While I have been lounging and loafing in my hammock listening to the endless Schubertiade on BBC Radio 3 over the last week and merely considering the possibilities of threesomes and triangulations, you seem to have got right 'stuck in' taking hold of Smith and Dumezil in both eroticised hands ahead of me.

A Schubertiade, it is wise to make these observations this at the outset, is an evening occasion when musical pieces are played together in an informal way to be shared among friends – or "male companions", as you prefer to call the relationship, perhaps in a (none of that kind of sodomy thing) pre-cautionary thrust against Sappho rearing her shaggy head? But I think you are too late here, and will find the meaneads are already among us, and probably Achilles too in his young cross-dressing phase, and as well as Sappho, there is Gaspara Stampa and Mary W among a host of others.

A Schubertiade is also a kind of journey along side-roads and tracks. For instance, one of the musicians playing has been the pianist Paul Lewis, who, as the BBC Radio 3 announcer explained, had interupted his two year concert-hall worldwide odyssey playing the Schubert sonatas on Monday evening a week back to return to his home city Liverpool – for the recital he played 16 German dances, and then the two A minor sonatas D784 and D845 (a risky combo it was suggested), but… you will have missed it now -f you have missed it – as it will now gone past the 'Listen Again' option deadline.

What kind of journey? It is a series of unsettling journeys along roads where the destination is known, but where there is no prospect of resolution or attainment. However, fortunately in the company of Schubert's music there is always the quality of kindness, the journeys always being ones that "take you to the top of the mountain, but then brings you back down again". The destination, in case you need it spelling out, is of course the grave, where he gently asks, "Since that is where we will all end up, why not have a look now?"

Like in the Schone Mullerin I am feeling green-minded. "in Grunen… wieder Grunen… immer Grunen", it started off well enough in threesome-ness. I headed off into the wilderness and it was/I was green everywhere and there by the babbling brook there she stood, and I lost my heart to her… But then you came in and spoiled everything, you; the hunter, the man who wears green, is green, and goes by so many names, St George, El Khidr and others. So I am green-minded too, eroticised, and also politicised – one is reminded that in Schubert's days to be an artist or poet who goes wandering freely and beyond the jealous eyes and ears of the 'listening stations' of the secret agents (who are everywhere within the city) is to be political – and beyond that death awaits me.

Mar 302012

Have we arrived? Are we here? The place we are meant to be? In the place to which some god or fate intended us to reach? An intention that was in place from the very dawn of eternity, not that eternity can have a dawn, or a sunset come to that. A sort of enlightenment without the fireworks? Surely fireworks were on the menu! A patch of boggy Dartmoor, a gentle rain, a mist, Schubert on the little wind-up radio and we have to squat because it is too wet to sit down. In the midst of a would-be heated male companionship but so exhausted that our chilly fingers can no longer grasp the weapons that now lie unused glistening in the tussocks. Clever weapons that I should have been trained in many decades ago when my mind was still supple enough, in the sunshine, not down here in the labyrinthine depths full of strange snortings, a dark world in which it’s certainly better not to trust any living thing. Or dead thing. Or even things that claim to be alive but actually exist in some dimension unknown to our current state of knowledge.


    Priest-king or war-lord? Excuse me, I just need to go to the lavatory. That’s better, now what was that you were saying? The thing with foreign names is that they are so mysteriously attractive. Take Smith as a for instance, take it in your left hand and then in your right take Dumézil. Chalk and cheese, I think you’ll agree. But we do have to move on, we can’t squat around here all day. Pinky Dave Cameron, of course, is a fully paid up lizard dressed up as a castrated war-lord. The fact of it is, is that somebody or other got the bags mixed up, the contents spilt all over the Piazza del Popolo during a benefit concert for that poor beggar Berlusconi. We did our best to pick up the pieces, but many were stolen or were washed into the sewers. And we’ve never been able to properly sort out the ones we were able to collect. There’s no time. I know it sounds like an excuse but . . . please be reasonable. Time is money. And you know how while I’m dreaming of what to have for supper some other guys are busy hoarding all the available cash. I must add that it is also in part a question of categories. It seems to me to be a good thing that we can begin to see the complexity of it all but it does make simple decision making almost impossible unless we shut our eyes and stab wildly with a pin. Can we really call that decision making?


    I’m not convinced that she realises I’m making love to her. Not like the old days when the heat was undeniable. Jenny Diski, who I believe to be a woman, (LRB 22 March 2012) quotes Roger Ebert: ‘One of the reasons that America inspires so many road movies that we have so many roads. One of the reasons we have so many buddy movies is that Hollywood doesn’t understand female characters (there are so many hookers in the movies because, as characters, they share the convenience of their real-life counterparts: they’re easy to find and easy to get rid of).’


    Of course we like to pretend that we have roads here in jolly old England but essentially we only have rather damp patches of Dartmoor on which to squat and shout at each other, occasionally managing to strike a blow that’s got enough umph behind it to cause a darkening of the flesh. Where are you Michelle? And is this Michelle playing the part of a hooker? In this Movie?