Jun 112013
KEN_0513_ 0004

You’ll remember me saying.

Well, perhaps I don’t, the other replies.

Two men in conversation: it is not difficult to find many explanations for the disconnect in what they are saying to each other – reinventing the tradition, as Walter Scott said reputedly, always comes easy:

- Walter Benjamin walking with Baudelaire in Paris and transcribing what he once said or wrote in long sections of  The Arcades Project

- Joyce and Beckett walking on I’Ile aux Cygnes, Paris at the Francis Kyle Gallery (London from July)

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- “Ulysses’ ship in the Grand Basin of the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris”, my friend DRK says, searching for the right words and failing to find them, as he says he commonly does.

It is not exactly unsafe here, but it is always possible to detect danger, and hunched forward around a small cafe the four of us are speaking quietly together and being careful with our words. For one thing it is quite possible the large monumental figure on the pedestal above us is listening. He appears to belong to the apparatus of state authority and in a state of excitement with his erection, and something on a stick is pointing down towards us: a microphone. Or perhaps it is a weapon, something electronic and threatening.

Anything is possible on this bright and beautiful day isn’t it? While  the tourists are happily milling through the city gardens, jumping for joy, great red spots are beginning to fall from the sky. Or blood is exploding from somewhere, a body perhaps, and it could very quickly become a crime scene. The police will be arriving from every direction in the next instant, and the whole place will be locked down.

Something else red and intense and also exploding is under the bridge by the river Seine below where the two writers Joyce and Becket, if the two small waling figures precisely unrecognisable at such a distance are them – (DRK ”She  glanced at her lovely echo. Joyce and Beckett walking on I’Ile aux Cygnes, Paris.”).

The chances are there could be several kinds of explanations for these explosion altogether. Go to Firenze to try to find out and whether such phenomena are also to be found in that city. Her lovely echo: under the Ponte Vecchio, once walking close by I remember noticing the dusty dried out grass thick with discarded hypodermic needles, and plastic bags, occasional used condoms, and piles of black plastic garbage bags were scattered close by on the flat ground between river wall and the flowing water. Another time, I watched a group of young men playing football on a cleared grassless area, and skillfully avoiding letting their ball go out of play on the river side. And along the arcades –  lungo i portici - there were to be found young men and women, some of them wild eyed and revolutionary, sat beneath the grafitti of political slogans.

And so on, reinventing the tradition. lungo i portici : I also understand that the Grillini are now already in total disarray.

Ja-Was? Bild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Banishing of Death

 Posted by at 10:52 am  Anti-Gravity Surgery, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Feb 092013

16062012021The tables are empty, the chairs are waiting but how are we to banish death from the world? We don’t quite believe in an immortal spirit any longer – well, some of us do, but many of us have signed up to unrelieved materialism with a dash of atheistic Tabasco. So the task might be seen as either using white hot science to push death ever further into the future, understanding and countering the mechanisms of ageing, staying hopeful.

“We must never let it happen again.” This a near constant refrain these days. If only we can perfect the system so that the possibility of something going wrong is reduced to almost nothing. No chance! We’ve got all the variables covered.

Jacqueline Rose wrote: ‘in the words of Walter Benjamin, the storyteller used to ‘borrow his authority from death’ (there used to be no house, hardly a room, in which someone had not once died’). But in the course of modern times, dying has been pushed more and more out of the perceptual world of the living.’ (On Not Being Able to Sleep)

Beckett’s Endgame occupies a boundary space. Four characters, two of whom might be dead, or are likely to be dead very soon, and of the other two, one, the father Hamm, appears to be heading in the same direction and the other Clov, cannot leave the job he has of caring for his father and presumably trying his hand at having a life. Get a life, as we say these days.

So much death. So much 20th century death and Beckett has a stab at describing the, well, I want to call it spiritual, the spiritual place we were in before we discovered the joys of the Market and the reinvention of a slave underclass as being a desirable option and even managing to upend history and persuade enough voters that it is a good wheeze not just for the super wealthy but for ordinary folk like you and me.

Where are we now? As Bowie sings. A good question!

May I quote from Jacqueline Rose again? (I’m finding her On Not Being Able to Sleep a very thought provoking piece of work) – ‘may I be permitted my speculation that the opening of The Waste Land looks at spring from the point of view of a corpse? As Levenson goes on to discuss, this is a corpse that sprouts. Life is breathed back into the body through a redemption which Eliot struggled towards and eventually reached.’

What sort of thing might redemption or resurrection, or rebirth be? Is that the sort of place we are trying to reach?

I suppose the great thing about the Market (our new capital G God) is that there is absolutely no need for these weird notions or any ethics because we are all rational economic units, bodies with a bit of rationality added, that will make all the appropriate decisions based on self interest. We can ditch the last forty thousand years of human life, forget about everything except making money or working as a (sort of mindless) slave.

Interestingly a bit further on Jacqueline Rose brings in Keynes:

‘Above all, what classical economics ignores, according to Keynes, is the problem of time. In his 1937 article on The General Theory of Unemployment, he wrote:

We have, as a rule, only the vaguest ideas of any but the. Most direct consequences of our acts . . . our knowledge of the future is fluctuating, vague and uncertain . . . The senses in which I am using the term (uncertain) is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain,or the price of copper and the rate of interest twenty years hence, or the obsolescence of a new invention, or the position of private wealth-owners in the social system in 1970. About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know.

Knowledge with a foretaste of its own ignorance, or knowledge brushing at its limits, would be one way of defining the unconscious.’

Coming to that final word, unconscious, as Rose does feels like coming home. A place to stay for a while. The unconscious and the way that we might know (or not know) anything at all.

Queer Stuff (Part 2)

 Posted by at 2:57 pm  Echo Effects, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Feb 072013

I met Maurice on Friday evening. We were at the Wellcome Collection symposium on “What makes a Good Death?”, and sinking free drinks which were on offer after we had heard a literary talk about Death chaired by Prof Steven Connor. The professorial choice was mostly very polite and Anglo-dignified, but at the end (at last) there was a reading from Mallone Dies (Samuel Beckett):

“I shall soon be quite dead. I have that feeling… and I credit it. I shall be neutral and inert… almost lifeless.”

Back to Maurice. He was sitting by himself at a table so I asked if I could join him and we got talking. He told me his partner was an archivist (they both work within Manchester University). Maurice told me that his partner (the archivist) says we shouldn’t throw anything away, and that somebody will want our collections… when we are almost lifeless.

What Maurice’s partner (the archivist) said about collections gave me heart. For one thing, one day when I am almost lifeless I don’t want to be a trouble to the children, and my collection of notebooks and papers and scribblings could be a burden for them. They need to go somewhere; into the bonfire at the bottom of the garden perhaps, or somewhere. If Maurice’s partner (the archivist) wants them that would save my kids a bit of bother and worry.

Then there’s another thing: the Wordstall Collection – and the Rules of the Journey – and the queer hope that Maurice’s partner (the archivist) might also want to have these one day too. When we are both almost lifeless, and ready to switch off, or be switched off.

As I am writing… I am sitting under another quote from Malone Dies up on the wall of the Bike Shop (Exeter), waiting to get a ticket for Endgame tonight. It is fully booked but who knows I might get lucky – or not. It is Ok to be waiting:

“Decidedly it will never have been given to me to finish anything, except perhaps breathing. One must not be greedy”. Yes, we could use that principle for the Rules for the Journey too.

So did you listen to Will Self last 4th Feb on BBC Radio 3 Modernism Redux? It is a Podcast and you will be able to ‘catch up’ and listen to it for ever. That is the point of collections isn’t it? That they are there for ever. And it was also the idea which Will Self was exploring with the help of a BBC radio engineer: the creation of ‘remitter machine’ for the task of recovering of everything ever broadcast (everything since radio transmission began in the 20th century). You see – we are not alone in realising that not only will never finish anything, but also there will now never be time for us to re-enact everything either. We will never ‘catch up’ and… when we are almost lifeless, we will have been broadcast everywhere.

Waiting for…

 Posted by at 10:46 pm  Echo Effects, Holy Fool/Hero, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
Jan 092013

It is the 60th anniversary of the first performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – the first performance in French (En Attendant Pour Godot) was on January 5th 1953 in Paris. The first English version of the “tragicomedy” was performed on 3rd August 1955

It has been with us nearly all our lives – A country road. A tree. Evening

Vladimir: We’re waiting for Godot

Estragon: (despairingly) Ah! (Pause) You’re sure it was here?

Vladimir: What?

Estragon: That we we’re to wait

Waiting for what? Waiting for  death. That  and what else has been endlessly explored, but it is hard to tell.

Or we can pose it another way –

“What are we here for?”

“The dialogue.” – as we have done here over the last few years asking the question between the two of us, using these two lines from Becket’s play Endgame.

Beckett preferred to avoid answering questions as to what were their truth value. He continued to work on the texts of his published plays throughout his later life, and in translating and retranslating (from French into English in particular: En Attendant pour Godot / Waiting for Godot), he sometimes described the endless process as “vaguenings”.

A form of waiting to find the right rhythmic balance and musicality of his work, or gleanings  – recalling Adorno’s ‘Briefer Expositions’ (#62 Minima Moralia) “tempo, compactness, density… and tentativeness” – such as are also poetice enactments and performative reenactments: All our lives.

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.