Jul 082016
Guest Kiosk 2, Izmir station

‘entitlement’ was the word I was remembering. I added it between these other two, “death … hospitals”, when we were meeting yesterday in the city-centre Cafe.

We were in the spirit of walkingtalkingwriting, and one aspect of the entitlement word we were on about was (entitlement/un-entitlment) the dialectic, in which both of us were entitled to step out, or into a city-centre Cafe in Exeter to meet. Or to a Hospital to die.

the national choice,

or not,

were death,



I was asking you about your poetry. “Not knowing the difference between You and your better self”, you had written or something that had ended along those lines. I was saying it seemed like a beginning:

‘.. there is only one kind of poetry (these days): Jacobin and unyielding’ (Joshua Clover b. 1962)

This was quoted in a review article I had read by David Lau called Poetics of Resistance in the latest copy of NLR

in which the following poem by Anne Boyer was provided as one of the ‘new signs of collective practice, salto mortale* rhetoric’:

were death,

‘ I wake up singing “death, courtrooms and hospitals”. The next verse is “banks, boardrooms, and universities”. There is a chorus “IT companies! Armies! Films!” ‘

* (Salto mortale : like stepping out of the the cafe-kiosk at the end of the freeway. Anne Boyer’s 2012 collection of poems is available free online: My Common Heart)


Vogue Rot

 Posted by at 1:48 pm  Catastrophe Games, Fundamental Perversions, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 092015
PC faded151

What is ‘Vogue Rot’? Some kind of fungal disease found in cold and dark conditions, a form of wet anaerobic decay, or what? It sounds unpleasant, and it is. Fair warning.

Preamble: for some of us there is the sense that nothing ever happens (one could call this a peculiarly English sense of personal and collective history). We think we long for something to happen, but we spend all our energy avoiding the possibility and living our lives as if they form a single narrative. Occasionally however we meet someone whose life  has been so fractured by an excess and constant happenings from birth and early childhood, that it breaks and collapses this idea of a single narrative.

I was lent a book last Sunday. It is called Ariadne’s Thread, In Memory of WG Sebald. It is a ficto-documentary written by Philippa Comber (‘PC’), using her diary and charting her encounters with ‘Max’ (as Sebald chose to call himself) from the time they first met in Norwich in 1980.

Sebald would not have liked the book’s title: Ariadne’s Thread smacks of mythological mish-mash, and exactly the kind “adornment” which he detested in writing and the pretence of strands woven into a single thread.

I began to suspect – In Memory of – was this a love/hate work? However, my mind was clouded by sentimental feelings for this particular writer who had first opened my eyes to the many strands and ‘constant happenings’ streams of mitteleuropa post-war literature. I also saw that PC had the advantages of speaking German, had lived among and knew the academic worlds of German literature, and she was a psychotherapist so she had the language of analysis at her disposal as well. So I opened the book on Sunday night and began to read.

I immediately noted the lack of any photographs in the book, of the kind which Sebald always included in his work, the images reproduced being faded through a particular process he employed of repeated photocopying. Here are some more sepia facts which were also omitted from the book. WG Sebald was born in Germany in May 1944 and died in a car crash in December 2001 in East Anglia at the age of 57. He married an Austrian born women called Ute in 1967, and they had a daughter, Anna, who was badly injured in the same car accident in which he died. His main translator was Anthea Bell with whom he worked collaboratively and simultaneously, Sebald sending her the first draft of chapters written in German, which she would send back translated into English with comments and feedback as he continued to write the later chapters. None of these facts are in the book, and the impression given is that PC was the only real woman in Sebald’s otherwise solitary life.

What is Vogue Rot? It is a kind of British monthly fashion magazine filled with photographs of models standing in various poses, and appeals to a particular aspirational social class of women. The magazine has been going for a very long time, and old copies are difficult to get rid of. Thick and glossy, they hardly burn even in a hot open fire, and natural decay takes a very long time. They rot very slowly even if added in a rich compost. Finally all text and images dissolve , but the resultant layer of grey wet dust adds no goodness to the soil.

An equivalent term to Vogue Rot might be “Utter Mess” – it was a favourite phrase of Sebald in conversation. Vogue Rot is also a style of English writing…

…Early on (p. 10) PC writes that from young adult life she liked to accumulate old copies of Vogue magazines, and that they filled her life and travelled with her in piles of “bricollage”. She says that Max enjoyed seeing these piles when he first visited. Rather than bricollage, the preferable word would have been in German (I am ignorant of what it would be – aka ‘grey wet dust’), and connected Sebald to the writing strand of Trummerliteratur (‘rubble literature’) and a post-war writer such as Heinrich Boll. Alexander Kluge (b 1932) continues in the tradition…

…Pulverised, wet, and in after shock from childhood. ‘In Memory…’ is not the way the likes of Penelope Fitzgerald would have researched and written a life of Sebald as Blue Flower, nor Anselm Kieffer painted a recollection of life in Morgenthau Plan land growing up like him in post-war Germany. Instead what PC tells is a singular English story held in the memory of a romantic crisis. This occurs shortly after the death of her father in 1981: she is in a “fair old turmoil”, contacts Max who she has been seeing quite frequently by then, and is rebuffed. The charged, as she puts it,”erotic” moment passed, but the pain has lingered on in the memory, analytically speaking her desire for comfort during this extreme experience of loss perhaps being aroused to resemble something else…

…Like an Ariadne’s Thread. I read to the end that same Sunday evening, not every word of course, but as much as I could bear to in the presence of this phenomenon Vogue Rot. Shudder of disgust, and unable to sleep I turned on Radio Benjamin and listened to one of his stories for children. It was called ‘On Swindlers’.

“Today I want to tell you about a great swindler…”, it began. A blessed transformational revolution swiftly followed and I soon passed into dreamless oblivion.

The book has since been returned.

Mar 302013

More or less gloom these days, being political or more political, we attempt to excavate the radical tradition and expose those who lay claim it: is it  the radical right, or the radical left? Both stake claim to the space and rhetoric, both claiming in the radical tradition to be the political providers of our happiness.

It was the UK Budget last week, in case you missed it, and the turn of the radical right to have a go at staking their claim. Chancellor Oblong was offering a give away, Give away what? you interrupt, Not a lot to the likes of you, I admit, although he was being careful to avoid upsetting the voting oldies. But at least he gave away a few secrets, Giving away secrets? you interrupt again in incredulous voice, Yes, secrets, I continue, exposing himself in friendly fashion the day after on the BBC Today programme.

We must create new industries, Chancellor Oblong said on the BBC radio, We must create new industries not reliant on from consumer spending, we must create new industries a distance from supermarkets, and we must create away from London, create away from the capital city jungles and create away from the corporate HQ’s and bonus culture. And new industries, Chancellor Oblong added, We must create away from the public sector, (signalling of course the radical right’s continuing political agenda to maintin the destruction of the welfare state).

We must create around the train Lines, Chancellor Oblong announced more strangely,  We must create in the other great cities of our nation…  Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool… (I noticed Oblong’s vision of Ukania omitted Wales and Scotland but seemed to be attempting to echo the spirit of those robust nineteenth century traditional radicals such as Chamberlain, Cadbury et al). And I’ll tell you how, Oblong continued, By being creative we’ll keep progress and purpose are alive, let us create to be creative,  By being, Creative.

Oblong went on breathlessly to give his list. We must create creative media hubs, and creative money making schemes (“based on YouTube” he added), creative life sciences (cutting through all that tiresome moral and ethical red tape I thought), and of course we must create all those creative green technologies.

Which will add £400 to all our energy bills, the BBC interviewer finally managed to interupt Oblong’s shameless give away. But by then the misty isles’ grey and gloomy mist had descended even further over the air waves, and it was time for the News Circus to move on to the sports report (Cricket – England in a thrilling Test Match in New Zealand, another draw).

“When Insufficiently Supplied with Oxygen”

 Posted by at 10:53 am  Exodus, OVER and BEYOND  Comments Off
Feb 012012

This is a helpful starting point.

I had already spent last weekend at the ‘Southbank Death Festival for the Living’. A curious way of naming the Festival I thought, as I turned up on Saturday at 10.30am to join a large expectant crowd of about five hundred people in the Royal Festival Hall (Level 2). However, I had been looking forward to the two day programme, which was packed full with events that seemed to cover most of the cultural, the contextual, and the critical aspects, but I did not know what else to expect. The bits I liked best were the ‘Before I Die’ installation, which was a smooth black wall on which we (well, actually other people… it was full up) were able to chalk our ideas, and then down on Level 1 some large rectangular boards that were works (of art?) in progress, on which we (yes, I got to do this) were able to chalk/draw little circles, one for birth and one for death, and then add a remembered name (or names) on a third board in coloured crayons of our choice.

There was also the ‘Death Café’ on Level 3 at the Festival, which sounded like fun and somewhere everybody should try going to sometime. However, surprisingly it was only open for one hour during each day during the Festival, and there were only thirty chairs. In other words, there wasn’t room for everybody, which couldn’t be right. In fact there was hardly room for anybody since the thirty lucky punters who got there first stayed for the full hour (it looked like group therapy to me, and there wasn’t any coffee to be seen anywhere although the free chocolate cake on offer looked good).

Overall it wasn’t the nobler journey into the Natural History of Dying I had been hoping for, but then perhaps I have been walking in the company of Walter Benjamin and Max Sebald for too long and have unrealistic expectations.

An irreversible insufficient supply of oxygen is a good definition of dying. Patch Adams (Gesundheit!) said it more or less the same, but then continued with this very important sentence, “Everything else is living”.

A Natural History of Dying? At one level it is personal, and at another level it is political. About endings; both personal and political being finite. One day I will die (obvious!). One day the United Kingdom will die too (Why does that seem surprising?). Should it happen to take place as a result of the 2014 Referendum for Scotland…

…But here my personal and political minded selves get muddled up. Post 2014 and a dissolution of Ukania, would either half of my balkinised name be adequate for the other, or would the separation of the states of England and Scotland have to be accompanied by a similar cancelling of the union between Mackay and James? Stateless, and reduced to the hyphen between the two names, not permitted entry to either place, somehow caught in between, I am brought to another stop.

Move along, please sir, there is no loitering around allowed here.


 Posted by at 11:30 am  Echo Effects, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 232011
wordstall graffiti

Grinding through the slow moving traffic, the blackened pillars, the open wrought iron gates come into view on the right. There is a spasm of nervousness as I indicate and pull over to the centre of the road and wait for a break in the oncoming line of cars. The metalled drive curves up the hill, through the park like acres of grass and trees – oaks and beeches. No sign of the inmates or the Victorian pile of the asylum. Damp December morning, a week before Christmas. Reluctant to get there too soon, I ease slowly over the speed humps and watch the stark trees for signs of life. For something! I imagine corpses swaying and slowly spinning in the breeze, hanging from the massive branches and leave them, pass them by, not knowing who they might be, whose side were they on, speed up, jolting over the humps, putting that image behind me. Are the inmates better cared for than my imagination does for them?

Oh, look over there, the first signs of human life, little figures skip skipping through the long grass. Little Englanders, mostly men, cared for on this reservation, free to roam and dream of distant empires. Well, they look happy enough. Well fed – even a bit on the pudgy side like little round steamed puddings; full of roast beef and, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes followed by spotted dick and lumpy custard. Don’t look now, they’ve noticed me, in unison their heads turn towards me. Can they see my pro-European disposition, my tendency to see England as a small peninsular off the north western coast of Europe that got cut off by the incoming tide leaving the marooned islanders to believe that they had done it themselves.

Ukania with its dreams of fratricide, its dreams of slaves beaten into submission, cutting the sugar can on distant tropical islands. How quickly the years pass. How unreliable the memory.

Ukania – are you suggesting we look in the mirror and see Serbia? I remember both the dark streets of arrival in Belgrade and the bright sunshine the following morning as we strolled the castle grounds.

How the little Englanders cheered for their pinkly glowing champion. Though at the end of another week a different narrative seems to be gathering ground –  turning a blind eye to the petit gesture of the veto and getting on with what needs doing. But then again it’s Christmas.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando one of the many things I have been struck by is how she describes the changing character of people over the three centuries of Orlando’s life. The shift towards allowing an uncertainty of identity. Of course she wrote in the midst of both her privileged background and the ‘wild’ community of the Bloomsbury group. A threat to certainty – it must have been deeply disturbing for many readers. The older idea of fixed identities – take Dicken’s characters, for example – was passing. We became more interested in the complexity of our inner lives, the complexity and conflicted nature of our desires.

In twenty years (God willing) we’ll be able to look back and see the where, when and who of the coming paradigm shift – what out of all the stuff we’re reading – will form the texture of the future?


Fraternité, Brüderlichkeit

 Posted by at 5:57 pm  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 212011

Or walking on the shadow side, let’s call it - ”On the inability of the english to fraternise”.

What is it about us, as if a gap of 20km makes us in some way unable to be friendly with the people over there? An island race? I am enjoying reading Norman Davies’s extended demolition job of that notion; Vanished Kingdoms… (2011),The Isles… (1999), and ‘Not Forever England’ in Europe, East and West (2006).

Call me obstinate if you like (judged by the opinion polls, I am clearly in the minority), but I like this thing of being european. It is a big topic! So here is one way of making a comparison ‘feuilleton style’.

‘Feuilleton style’? I have recently come accross a splendid website which provides a summary of the best current Unter der Stück pieces of writing out of Mitteleuropa, and they are ALL IN ENGLISH! – signandsight.com

And there among the pages and pages of good stuff, was that article describing the habit of “self-imposed national isolation”. Ah yes! An article about David Cameron’s Veto (2011)? No, actually the article was talking about the behaviour of Serbia over the last few years.

Bizarre of course comparing Serbia with England, or the nostalgia for a ’Greater Serbia’ with that Daily Mail way of longing for a ‘United Kingdom’. Norman Davies has an even better way of describing the state of (self-imposed national isolation) sentimentalist mind – “Ukania”.

Ukania: the mouse that roared – like the Grand Duchy of Fenwick. Or Ruritania: Somewhere that never was, and soon enough will no longer be.