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.

Under a Low Cloud

 Posted by at 1:51 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Jun 062012

Or it could be fog. At any rate the tops of the hills are no longer visible, the cloud is solid like a great slab of time, and there is a persistent fine rain. It is June upon the Misty Isle.

Along with another great slab of time, sixty years, what the Chinese call a 'Great Cycle': the Diamond Jubilee, like the weather it has taken us all over this holiday week-end. And along with everybody else, I watched bits on TV, the Jubilee Show on Monday night with the great global minstrel Stevie Wonder singing it like it is.

Happy Jubilee Your Majesty!

And the fly past over the Palace on Tuesday afternoon, the Red Arrows, leaving the red, white and blue streams of smoke hanging in the sky. Then it was all over, the Palace balcony was clear, and the smoke and crowds began to disperse.

Later on the same evening, I was at my desk and searching for what George Szirtes had said about his translation of Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, which has just been published in English (first published in Hungary in 1985). I went to George Szirtes blog to search for more, but was diverted by what he was writing about the Jubilee.

First there was the Jubilee Letter which he posted to the Palace on Sunday night. I recommend it and agree with his heartfelt sentiments, "Thank you for taking me in". In normal circumstances, GZ said, he might go for a republic. But it would seem churlish to have revolutionary feelings this last weekend. And the continental sense he has is that the cruelties of a backward-looking monarchy are likely to be less than those of a forward-looking revolutionary junta. The cruelties of monarch, GZ argues, by and large does not include eating their people…

Then there was his second post on Monday night following the Jubilee Show, harking back to the best in music and popular entertainment over the last sixty years, this time GZ's memory was stired by his recollections of the Tiller Girls at the Palladium when he was boy, and Royal Variety Performances over the years: High-kicking precision. Even Stevie Wonder had to play on time on Monday night!

Franz Josef, as GZ could attest, could not have put on a better show. The great long-lived monarch of the Twin Monarchy ("The United Kingdom of Austro-Hungary") had his Diamond Jubilee in 1914. Sixty Years again, another great slab of time, with all the resplendent uniforms, coaches, horses and high-kicking precision. However, I do not know if it also rained in Vienna over the period of the celebrations.

Franz Josef died in 1917… and after that it was the deluge. Oh Ukania! Yes, your peoples will miss her when she is gone, they surely will!

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…

Where’s Wally?

 Posted by at 3:42 pm  Atelier, ON the STREET  Comments Off
May 252012

Which one do you mean? There are so many, lined up against the pock-marked wall, their faces fatty and flabby and pox-marked, eyes screwed up against the suddenness of bright sunshine, a phenomenon that we had long since given up hoping for, believing that we had entered a state of permanent overlapping of autumn and winter; the seasonal clock winding on a few clacks of the worn out ratchet and then slipping back. Jerry and Dave guffawing as they must, as they have long been programmed to do; surely this can’t be real – a sort of intermission from the early days of television and at any moment Bill and Ben will chirrup their way on to the screen and all will be well. Nanny will arrive with a soft-boiled egg and nicely toasted soldiers, dripping with the best butter that unearned money can buy.

    Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Their trousers are round their ankles. What have they been up to? I do hope they haven’t been playing with that nasty, jumped-up Aussie . . . what was his name? Rupie . . . yes, I think that is what it was. An unpleasant ambitious sort of person, up to all sorts of no good tricks – very good at making unverifiable promises, actually very good at telling woppers. Question: how do you get the outcome you’ve promised your big friends whilst pretending to be impartial? Now, that is the skill of this game that we’ve blagged our way into – politics.

    Question: how do you get away with impoverishing much of the population whilst begging for their votes?

    Oh, yes, that’s where Rupie comes in.

    Is that what they call a virtuous circle. I mean we get richer.

    It was unfortunate for Dave that the wind that had filled the Australian’s sails for these last twenty or so years was flagging just as Dave got into power. It’s true he was still able to shift the blame from the bankers who had rather overstepped themselves – but we mustn’t get in the way of wealth creation for the few by regulating their behaviour or taxing their dubious casino transactions – on to the previous government.

    Question: can we shoot them now? No, sorry, but we have something called the rule of law and they do have access to the most expensive lawyers in the land. No wonder they are guffawing, it’s touch and go, but they believe they can still get away with it. Like their hero, the slippery Tony B, it’s all about timing the exit, having clawed your way up into the super rich category. Come on, even Ken Liversalts has become rich enough to pay those clever accountants to find those perfectly legal tax dodges.

    But let’s leave the last word to St Wally Benjamin:

    ‘In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful. Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an ‘ideal’ receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such. Art, in the same way, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response. No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.’

    (The opening paragraph of his essay, The Task of the Translator.)

    Actually I do believe that I could pick at random any paragraph from Walter Benjamin and it would be a gem.

    And I don’t think Benjamin was a salesman.


Funnier and Funnier

 Posted by at 4:28 pm  ON the STREET  Comments Off
May 232012

Buffo Buffo – How else should politics be conducted these days except with loud guffaws? Or rather performed because what we are exploring here is the performative efforts required of governments. Are they doing any thinking? One rather feels not. And if not, how should we in turn be thinking and acting, and what happens when we begin to consider the possibility that our politicians have become superfluous?

Direct action along the lines of the Occupy Movement is one possibility: Activism (see Graeber's Direct Action: An Ethnography for more on this)… although who knows whether or not anarchist spontaneous self-organisation (protest + assemblies + encampments) produces any real thinking either.

Inaction is another familiar and widely used response: Fatalism… and the avoidance of anything that might interupt the cultivation of our inner sense of eternal peace, plus or minus (more likely) any real thinking.

Where is the moral imagination to be found these days?

On the one hand there is the current crisis (a source of concern or celebration depending on your point of view) that capitalist dynamics are really running down: both overcapacity in manufacturing worldwide and a disconnect between economic activity and productivity over the last forty years… and that the world economies are heading for a state of growthlessness, in which we will never be able to work off the DEBT. On the other hand there is simultaneously the other crisis as well (imbued with a terrible uncertainty as to its future outcome) that global warming is happening and we ought to do something about stopping the world getting HOTTER, but we can't because – Buffo, Buffo – it seems democracy is not fit for purpose.

Where is the moral imagination to be found these days?

I am held by a quotation of the 18th century political theorist Edmund Burke, which I read in the latest copy of the LRB (24 May P5) that society "is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and who are to be born.":

- so that, while Uncle Wally's chessplaying Turkish puppets continue to stalk the land, a toast to Franz Josef by us all, and a salute to the Great Porte, is as an important performative effort today as it ever was.

Active boundaries and sulky flow

 Posted by at 1:34 pm  Atelier, ON the STREET  Comments Off
May 192012

POZZO: His hat!

            [VLADIMIR seizes LUCKY’s hat. Silence of LUCKY. He falls. Silence. Panting of victors.]

ESTRAGON: Avenged!

            [VLADIMIR examines the hat, peers inside it.]

POZZO; Give me that!

[He snatches the hat from VLADIMIR, throws it on the ground, tramples on it.]

            There’s an end to his thinking!

VLADIMIR; But will he be able to walk?

POZZO; Walk or crawl! [He kicks LUCKY.] Up pig!

ESTRAGON; Perhaps he’s dead.

VLADIMIR; You’ll kill him.

POZZO; Up scum! [He jerks the rope.] Help me!


POZZO; Raise him up!


    And so on. Brilliant Beckett! I can’t help thinking that St Samuel was keeping a close eye on the politicians of his day.


    LUCKY, in his current incarnation being Greece with the rope around its neck and Frau Merkel has been enlisted to play the role of POZZO. And our own Pinky Dave Cameron is shouting obscenities from the sidelines even as his erstwhile buddy LOL Rebekah is expressing her outrage that the CPS has had the temerity to actually charge her with an offence. It can’t get any better, I mean funnier. If this goes on the so-called comedians will be out of a job. Why do we need to pay for comedy when the politicians are doing such a good job of it. And the icing on the cake is that they are not intentionally funny. Of course , if they tried to be funny, they would fail utterly.

    This must be why autocrats are so hard on anybody who makes fun of them because they must know, deep down, that they really are buffoons. It’s only themselves that cannot see the garish clown make-up on their bloated faces.


‘On the following day I sat alone till tea time in the bar restaurant of the Crown Hotel. The rattle of crockery in the kitchen had long since subsided; in the grandfather clock, with its rising and setting sun and a moon that appears at night, the cogwheels gripped, the pendulum swung from side to side, and the big hand, bit by bit, in tiny jerks, went its round. For some time I had been feeling a sense of eternal peace when, leafing through the Independent on Sunday, I came across an article that was related to the Balkan pictures I had seen in the Reading Room the previous evening. The article, which was about the so-called cleansing operations carried out in Bosnia, by the Croats together with the Austrians and Germans, began by describing a photograph taken as a souvenir by men of the Croatian Ustasha, in which fellow militiamen in the best of spirits, some of them striking heroic poses, are sawing off the head of a Serb named Branco Jungic.’ (Page 96 W G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn).


Yes, sometimes the politicians get seriously out of hand. Though the perpetrators in the Independent’s text appear to be still caught up in the belief that they are part of some sort of theatrical comedy.


May 112012

All this time as a maturing man . . . my goodness, when can we cut him down and serve him with a bowl of French fries and a glass of chilled champagne in that “night club” of his? Let’s get on with it. We need strength for the journey; we need sustaining for goodness sake even if we are heading for that crest of the wave when maturing slips over into dementing. Or perhaps it’s the same thing: maturing must mean getting old and smelly; dementing means that we are past caring – unaware – unconscious aging. The dictionary suggests that there is no verb to dement, therefore I should not use dementing, it gives the wrong idea, as though I am doing something to myself. But why not? To be is a verb and is not quite a doing word. So is maturing I do something with conscious intention. Not sure – yes and no. I suppose drinking alcohol would be an example of conscious dementing and going to chat to my analyst an example of conscious maturing.

    When did Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver come out? Oh yeah, 1976, I checked on Wikipedia. Anyway, the point is I watched it last night having rented the DVD. The fact is I wasn’t sure whether I had actually seen it or whether I only imagined I had seen it because it’s one of those movies that entered what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious (if there is such a thing?). After watching it I’m still not sure whether I saw it in 1976 or 77 but I'm inclined to the view that I didn't see it. Could be I didn’t, because I wasn’t getting to the movies very much as that point in my life. Checking the Scorsese filmography on Wikipedia I noticed Mean Streets which came out a couple of years before Taxi Driver. Perhaps that was the one I saw. So this might be about venturing into the territory, reminding me of Dartmoor once again, of my dementing. But for the moment let’s stay with the movie. Robert de Niro’s Travis is a fascinating creation of a character, coming into America post-Vietnam, an ex-marine, probably traumatised, cannot sleep, finds a job as a taxi driver and occupies a fine line between maturing and dementing. The question that is so gripping is, is he going to make it? Which mainly means, will he survive? But also demands some clarity as to notions of maturing/dementing. He seems to have little in the way of self protective mechanisms operating. Is that another consequence of the PTSD? To what degree does he represent a socially inadequate character irrespective of whatever happened to him in Vietnam. So, yes, the various Jimmy’s and their questioning of what it is to live and survive or not. Travis even has a go at falling in love which doesn’t get far when he takes his dream of woman to a pornographic movie because it is just another film and besides he doesn’t know anything about films. Later, her boss, a presidential hopeful, happens to get into his taxi and Travis makes out he really admires this politician, though he knows nothing about politics, which in turn invites the presidential hopeful to ask him about what he’d like to see happen. Given permission Travis spews out a stream of paranoid stuff about clearing out the filth of the city and then it’s not long before he’s buying guns.

    It’s a fine essay on maturing and dementing, the socially isolated and excluded, heading for an explosion of some sort.

    I better get along to my analyst.