Jun 022015
You and I Soapbox141

‘A Sweet Disorder’

Pardon my sarong. I’ll have a Shirley Temple.
Certainly, sir. Do you want a cherry with that?
I guess so. It’s part of it, isn’t it?

Words! It is the words, isn’t it, that are increasingly hard to believe in. Without terminal humor (sic) that is – the above lines come from the beginning of a new poem by John Ashbery (age 88), and are published in his latest collection Breezeway, of which a New York critic writes: “The poems anticipate death but hold it off—they filibuster—by transfiguring it into comic forms.”

Harry Kratchnikov was nowhere to be seen but then deep in the Snigger Space with men beyond fifty, if not MB50, this wasn’t a history lesson either.

Yesterday – it was Sunday afternoon and I was being roughed up. Yesterday – it was Sunday afternoon and Dio and Trixie were being roughed up by an older man – and one old enough to know better – a monk no less in a sarong or something like it…
…The monk was about thirty silent yearswordstalk. He sat in a chair. Dio and Trixie sat side by side facing him. He spoke. They listened. No answering back. No cherry on offer either.

Afterwards Trixie said that she was not amused by this capacity men have to take themselves so seriously, and that there was no mistaking this marketplace:
Men only

Ignorance? You don’t know the meaning of the word, he said. Hardships. Trixie winced at the hard line of his bony jaw. And above it his burnt face and lips. Years and years in the outback.
You don’t know what hardship is, he said.

He spoke like a man stood at a bar, a bar where Dio couldn’t find a place to stand. Dio was hearing one thing, but seeing something else altogether. Cold anger swept up his spine. Was that meant to be a mistake for love he thought. Love? That’s a dirty Word. That’s a really dirty Word mate.

He went on and on, poking each one of his words into Dio’s softy soft belly.
Y’are not hardcore at all are yer? He said.
Ye bitch!
Try some kind of middle position between Love and Hate then: Did you get over the beatings eventually?
You’re fucked mate, he might as well have said. Go down.

A hot dusty wind. Bare arms.
What he was saying was rubbish. Sheepshearer, outback nonsense. Round and round it went, birth after rebirth, life after life, and every word filled with misery. He’d have looked as good with a beaten mongo hat and red-brown with outback dirt.

Only that Sunday afternoon there was no beer on tap, and despite where he’d come from being hellish hot and sweaty, Jeepers, here it was cold, not hot. Still he wasn’t about to get soft putting on extra clothes. Over his brown sarong or whatever he liked to call it.

Sure it was madness. Nonsense talk, every word rubbish. Taunting Dio to step up. Toe to toe. Yea, he’d probably even let you land a few punches, just to draw you in even further. Then PkoomPhoom out cold, flat on your back.

Easier ways to get there, Trixie said guiding Dio towards the exit.

Sure it was madness. Thirty crazy years too long stood staring at the sun.

Holy Men, I ask you, Trixie said.

But the bitter sense of what he had said was not missed on them.
A Sweet Disorder.

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.

Lungo i Portici

 Posted by at 1:56 pm  Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 192013
blog photo

What are the older men looking for?

Squeeze up, make some more room. No, we can’t! There isn’t any.

The thing is that there are too many of us to fit one street bench, and there’s a limit especially for older men with our spreading waistlines. Even if it is a long one, and the bench in the square looks that it is longer than usual. Demand exceeds supply.

Added to which it is obviously uncomfortable for us to sit on. The bench is made of stone, with a hard flat seat, and there’s no back to lean against. Of course it looks attractive lined up with the stone sculpted round balls, and functional too, but it isn’t possible to sit there for very long, even with the ingenuity of older men.

Maybe if I sit on my jacket. No, better not. I’ll get a terrible ticking off if I do, and it is all creased when I get home.

In fact, it is the clever ones who stand. From there they have a better chance of hearing more of what is being said. More than those sat at either end who can’t hear a word of what is being said more than two men away.

What did he say? Never mind, my friend. You don’t want to listen to him.

And stood up there’s also a better chance of making a monologue and dominating the conversation. The seated ones may wave their arms more trying to get their share of the speaking air space, but it is the stood ones who can control things.

Except that the driver sat in the white taxi parked behind the bench, a small thickset woman in a light blue shirt and black trousers, has turned up the car radio, and the mushy pop music is playing so loud that it is drowning out all the older men’s conversation.

At least they are out of the house! So she can get on with her chores, and the unmarried children and unemployed grandchildren who are still living at home can get on with their work, playing on their computers, or business, whatever that might be.

There’s one younger man stood behind the bench where the old men are sat. His mobile phone rings and he begins speaking loudly. As well it is an intimate conversation about sex, as if the old men don’t exist.

Shall we have sex too?

I don’t think your father is feeling well today, she says to her grandson. What is it Papa? Nothing, nothing. I am just going out now.

Don’t forget to buy the lottery tickets, she shouts after him from behind the front door which has just been slammed shut.

What are the older men looking for?

Each household gives us a job to do, a small task to perform while we are out. It is nothing too important, mostly  something to keep us occupied.

It means a journey into the city centre. And at least the authorities are making an attempt to help. We can take the senior citizen free bus pass to the city centre, and walk from the bus stop and cross the road in reasonable safety now that most traffic has been excluded from the roads.

Apart from the bench it is empty in the square where we like to meet. Although the white stone bench’s design and civic location has its obvious shortcomings, it has been given a fine Mission Statement:

Needs (wellbeing, lifeskills, social capital) – helping to meet
Happiness (fairness, social justice, participatory politics) – contributing towards
Gaps (intergender, and intergenerational) – speaking across

In a word, community. Fine words…

But it has to be said that we recall with longing the old days when we could sit on the steps in the arcades, smoke our cigarettes, and look up the legs of the passing women as they came out of the smart shops with their shopping bags.

Oh, I shouldn’t have said that!

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.

Jan 232013
wordstall pipes

Ich muss nicht schreiben…”. I don’t know who Peter Stamm was talking to when he said this, perhaps only talking to himself, but, product of a tidy Swiss mind, he wrote it down afterwards so that eventually the phrase found its way into print under his name.

Our Merzstall by contrast is an untidy and leaky construction, the patch is close to the issue of yellow brown fluids which constantly flow through, and a (Swiss, or clockwork, or other) logic for finding our way into commercial print appears to be entirely missing.

“Ich muss nicht schreiben…”, which, impersonally speaking,  stops one in ones tracks. Or it ought to, the same as the nineteenth  ’Bartleby Effect’, only we lack the (the American, or novelist) moral courage or certainties of Melville to put into effect. So we wait.

We wait, and we wait. It is part of our aesthetic. Our aesthetic? In a nutshell it is N + 2: mostly cardboard, corrugated iron and plastic sheet assemblage, and waiting, and the idea of ending a story to us is improbable, strange, and rather queer.

Recall the warning of Angela Carter on (Shakespeare’s and other) endings, “Truthfully these glorious pauses do sometimes occur in the discordant narratives of our lives and if you choose to stop and stay there, at such a pause, and refuse to take it any further then you can call it a happy ending.”

Jan 092013
VIA 2008

Es fugt sich: It Happened – It happened some weeks ago looking back over my shoulder that I saw in the distance the presence of the fifteenth century vagabond, sometime pauper, sometime wealthy merchant, knight and diplomat of princes (Burger und Hoffmann), poet, composer and musician Oswald von Wallenstein (1377-1445).

The three main topics of his work were Travel, God, and Sex. The songspiel -Es Fugt Sich (It Happened) tells his life story and is made up of VII stanzas (each 16 lines long). From the CD Songs of Myself performed by Andreas Scholl (2010) here are some following “vaguenings” of the written words:

# 1. It happened, when I was ten years old,
that I wanted to see what the world was.
I have been in warm and cold places, in misery and poverty,
with Christians, Greek-Orthodox, and heathens…

…I had three cents in my pocket,..

# II. To Prussia, Lithuania, Turkey, Turkey over the Sea, to France…

- I’ve sailed seas high and low -

… the Black Sea taught me how to cling to a barrel,
when my brigantine…

(I was a merchant then, and survived, me and an Russian.)

# III. Before the Queen of Aragon-so beautiful and tender-

I knelt down…

# IV. Mein tummes lebenwolt ich verkeren, das is war
und ward ein halber beghart wol zwai ganze jar

(Truthfully, I wanted to start a new life,

for a good two years I was a half begging monk)

… in truth, never before or after were girls so friendly…

# V. It would take too long if I told all my sorrows,

still, ravishing lips infatuate me especially…

# VI. Four hundred women and more…

# VII. I have lived…

mit toben, wuten, tichten, singen manger lai

(being wild, celebrating, making poems, and singing songs)

Ich Walkenstein, leb sicher klain vernunftlichlt

das ich der welt also lang begin zu hellen.


Time and Relative Dimensions of Space

 Posted by at 9:55 pm  Catastrophe Games, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 022013

“Broken time and the relative dimensions of space”  (broken time… and/or… time travel) was first explained by Susan Foreman in 1963/1964 (on BBC TV).

We would like to claim the Triple Entry System belongs to the Radical Tradition, but we realise that the sandwich kiosk fabric of WordStall is fragile, and that phrase – ‘The Radical Tradition’ – is full of a strangeness which continues to bring both the black and red shirts out on to the street. We are not looking for any trouble…

Or are we? Strange Cases indeed!

For instance, there is the strange case of the Radical Tradition philosopher Julius Evola (Sicilian nobleman 1898-1974) who discontinued his education at a young age because he “did not want to be bourgeoisie”. Evola joined the Italian army in the first World War and fought bravely on the Asiago plateau. Postwar he was anti-fascist, but even more vehemently anti-communist (anti- egalitarian, anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-popular), and later became a supporter of El Duco, fleeing to Austria after Mussolini’s fall in 1943. Living in Vienna he walked the streets during air raids “pondering his destiny” (as he wrote later), and was eventually wounded by a piece of bomb shrapnel which left him permanently paralysed from the waist down. In the 1950’s he wrote his famous trilogy on the Kali Yuga (Dark Age), and developed a deep interest in tantra, sexual magic and spiritual practice. Evola leaves an ambiguous legacy, claimed both by the “black terrorists” of the far right, and the apocalyptic “deep green” occultists, and many others who claim certainty as regards the meaning of changeability and austerity also claim him.

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.