Saturday, May 31, 2008

miles and miles ahead

How had this one slipped by me until now?

One of the great pleasures in life has to be suddenly discovering a new book or a new album and thinking how essential it is while knowing you've managed so far without it and yet - now - how could you do without it? The world has changed while you weren't looking. The shadows fall differently. There's a new melody to your days.

I'm typing this as track 4 - 'My Ship' - plays. About as ravishing a solo I think I've heard Miles Davis play. (Am I right in saying he's using a flugelhorn - giving that soft focus quality?).

Who cares - it sounds great. Walrus, if you're reading, I owe you big time for this one!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The site I quoted yesterday had nothing to do with Lisa Fishman the author of 'Dear, Read' so I'm removing the text.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Denise Levertov's New & Selected Essays arrived in the post this morning.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Sonnet (Short Story)

Opening the window
evening light
turning her face away.
Was it the voices
an invitation upon
the hope that everything entails
or an arcane combination of names?
Children from above
staying in preferring the curtain
to walking a circle.
Did you think it could be so simple
arriving home to find
that could be
was sufficient in explanation?

Monday, May 26, 2008

... a coda to the preceding post ...

... imagine, before it is too late for all concerned, shutting Rick Wright and David Gilmour in a studio together with strict instructions NOT to write lyrics and inviting Robert Wyatt in to open things up. Now that might be interesting.

Listening to the Gilmour concert as I type I can't deny the guitar sound is ravishing and the version of 'Shine On' worth hearing and Wright even seems to be enjoying himself. Glimpses of what could be? Or could have been?

We're only in it for the money

The BBC have been running a series of programmes on Pink Floyd. What this means in practice: a 'new' documentary (old pics and clips used with scant regard to chronology), the previously broadcast programmes on the making of 'Dark Side' and Syd Barrett, and (which I have yet to see) a solo concert by Gilmour.

Watching the main documentary one thing became abundantly clear: as of 1973 the Floyd - speaking of the group as a functioning unit - ceased to have any ideas. You get the feeling that 'Dark Side' was such a phenomenal hit and realised so many of their individual ambitions (creative and financial) that they didn't really know where to go next.

As I see it, the next move was to side step music making as such (ie actually developing, exploring, experimenting) and to do all in their power to safeguard the Brand Name. Wish You Were Here was, by definition, looking backwards - one wonders had Barrett not gone so 'romantically' crazy what Floyd would have had to sustain them; The Wall looked like a new departure but was, in fact, a construction out of old materials. Albums post-Waters are so clearly cobbled together and designed to include every Floydian trademark to keep the punters happy (echo piano effects, incredibly slow openings, soaring Gilmour guitar parts, usefully vague lyrics about 'us' and 'thems' and 'you' and 'mes'). Y-a-w-n.... . You keep getting the 'aroma' without any substance.

The reunion in London was the climax for the documentary and pulled on all sorts of predictable dewy-eyed journalistic cliches. Would Floyd re-form? Could we dream of a new album - a real new Floyd (meaning Gilmour, Wright, Mason and Waters) album? Oh! What an album that would be ...

And then you realise: no, it wouldn't be. For the 'reunion' in London is the Pink Floyd moment in excelsis: a celebration of an easily avoided feud, using music which has always been about celebrating some hypothesized golden moment in the past - you can call it Syd Barrett, or pre-Second World War England, or the 60s, or pre-solo Waters, but it is really Pink Floyd itself. If there ever was that 'golden moment' it was probably at one of those dank little clubs where everyone was dancing not terribly aware of the music other than as something weird and mind-expanding and a good excuse to gyrate around to and the lead singer looked rather unusual*. Ironically, it is the very moment Barrett epitomised and Waters did his best to leave behind as soon as possible. Why? Because you'd never sell a million albums with that kind of music. Soft Machine did carry on in that vein -and look what happened to them. (But then they were interested in the music).

So a 'new' Floyd album is something of a contradiction in terms. (I realise now why they actually called an album 'Relics'). What else have they been doing - almost from the word go - but trading in the past (and which is none other than their own)? For all Waters' hatred of the war years, 'his' band has been the epitome of 1940s austerity: make a little go a (very) long way. Thrift and good housekeeping are other ways to put it. They haven't wasted a scrap nor an opportunity to re-package it, re-sell it, all in the name of keeping the brand going. What a success story!


* what a give away when Waters admitted that the reason they had such a spectacular light show was that otherwise fans would find actually listening to the music "boring".

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Academic bitching

"Not long after his death in 1978, Zukofsky was taken up by a group of young writers who referred to themselves as the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets. The work of this group was always wrapped in self-justifying, crudely fashioned, post-structuralist commentary, and emphasised indeterminism, resistance to figuration, narrative, subject-matter, verbal music, imagery or any pleasure that might be associated with poetry, pleasure which they believed pandered to bourgeois capitalism."

Thus writes August Kleinzahler in his LRB review of Mark Scroggins' 'The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky'.

Now I won't pretend to be an expert on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry (although I know enough to use the equals sign rather than a series of hyphens). Nevertheless, I find Kleinzahler's description of the work "of this group" rather inaccurate.

Let's take Charles Bernstein - surely one of the key players in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry - is it really true that his work lacks subject matter and verbal music? And, if humour may be allowed as one of the pleasures associated with poetry, there's plenty of fun in a volume such as 'The Sophist'.

Then what about Ray Dipalma? Or Bob Perelman? Or Kit Robinson? And what, in any case, is "subject matter"? Can someone of Kleinzahler's evident stature as a reviewer really be using an argument similar to that used in visual art? "What's it of, then? A bowl of fruit?" Hard to believe.

I'm baffled.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I like my tuna rare

For those of you out there who might be thinking "hmmm ... well, if that's a sonnet then my name is Mujahideen" - here are two statements by Bernadette Mayer to switch the points and derail your thinking:

"I like the sonnet form because it gives you the chance to develop some thought, and then come to a conclusion. It's all totally false -- that's not how you really think, but in a way, it is how you think, so that's why sonnets are interesting. Sonnets pretend to reflect the way you think. That's always been my theory."


"I would just say write any way you want. You can make the lines short, or long. And looking out the window is a good way to write a poem. A good way to write a sonnet is to walk fourteen blocks. Write one line for each block. I knew a poet, Bill Kushner, who used to do that. I used to see him all the time with his notebook on the street. You can do it easily in a city, because there are all these words around."

I suppose it really comes down to where you're coming from (and where you'd like to arrive). If the idea is to mimic some 500-year-old artefact then let's do 14 lines of iambics and look up the other rules in the Oxford Companion to Literature.

However, if the idea is to see what might end up using the rules as a ruse ... well, read on ...

this weekend

Annotated Sonnet

1. my attempts to glorify your name in verse have failed to enhance their subject matter.

2. the speaker elaborates a chiastic conceit.

3. weep while in possession of; weep with desire to possess.

4. the stars comment on and guide human life but in ways that are indiscernible to us.

5. flower syrups and conserves enclosed in a jar or a box.

6. it is implied that the speaker’s brow is wrinkled.

7. the notebook is blank in the speaker’s memory.

8. pluck, pull out, extract with a slightly comic tone.

9. only a comma between ‘selfe’ and ‘but’.

10. the poet turns his gaze from human artefacts to viewing land and sea as greedy competitors.

11. the line is rather obscure: probably.

12. the speaker sees himself as a small boat.

13. the acknowledged characteristic of the marigold.

14. from the heart, a source of authentic pleasure.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions:
one with the hat, and one without it."

(Sergio Leone)

and this

Sonnet (ysonge)




Thursday, May 15, 2008


Textile Sonnet

for K.

begin at upper edge taking care to twist
work to last continue work change and place
sew looped over ribbed over either
stitch along red long edge of strip
slant in opposite bind off in rib
needle twice and fasten thread for threading
flat yarn matching more times around
place work last continue work to change
rib in opposite bind off in slant
over sew ribbed either over looped
threading fast twice thread in and needle
times around flat match yarn around more
strip of edge red stitch strip along red
take care to twist at edge begin again to lower

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

i.m. Robert Rauschenberg

"I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore."

yesterday morning

Sonnet (Emma)

in the woods
with my daughter
formed by trees
the sun
here and there
through the leaves
above our heads
her thoughts
green and suddenly
so tall

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

at different points during the day

Sonnet ('The Dissonance')

A stretch in Thame saves Nina

while a nibble a day keeps Thea’s daughter a waif.

It is ill Will who brings no goat

and every Claude has his servile leaning.

No paint cloying over spoilt Mike

but it’s ruining Kate and Doug.

Tim writes for Norman.

Betty lied. Evan wed her.

Mo hates. Les peed.

Ill Hortense rang Dee.

Di moans after Hedda.

Cy lends a gnomon.

Thin Gus cursed.

Walter offers Huck's bat.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Sonnet (40s flick)

The same old show tunes.
Pour yourself another drink
an index finger pressed against the lip.
Consolation delivered by the tumbler.

Luck falls like a ball in the slot
or that foggy memory of a rendezvous at the airfield.
The hand hesitates in the pocket.
Where were the papers he’d concealed?

In the Hotel Desire there is a vacancy.
Yet she has always left before you arrived.
You've learned all your lines by heart
and how to stumble down stairs for applause.

When honesty demands secrets
I want you to turn out the light.


Sitting on the terrace, early evening, bird song (blackbirds? pigeons certainly) at different distances from the trees around the gardens, the scrape of a broom on paving stones from the neighbours two down, the conversation between the retired schoolteacher and his partner on the balcony of the flat up to my left. Children's television from the living room. Occasional planes thousands of feet up and a dim sense of traffic passing to and from the city. A cork pops. Laughter.

There is no reason to record these sounds other than by way of marking an atmosphere - for want of a better word - which occurs around this time of the year until maybe early September. To draw some philosophic 'message' from it would be to run the risk of losing what is so essential (and elusive) about it. A given - unlooked for. Too often I try to force it, hurry it, impose a structure or narrative, "distraught by expectancy". When -

who rang the door bell?

this morning

Sonnet (Riddle)

a feeling of being

a coil or a twist

a line on a map

a knot by which

a philosophical gap

a wedge or a block

a gun to commit

a box with a lock

a length in a loop

a pipe at the top

a firm grip

a bowl with a hole

a circular letter

a key to a code

Sunday, May 11, 2008

just in

Sonnet (Sunday)

pink prawns in a pot

words won’t come
it happens
(meaning it doesn’t

the voices from the garden across the road

(would you call a child "Armani"?)

tomato salad
garlic, onion and olive oil
summer lunch

this garden so full of flowers the names of which
I do not know

“a line you sometimes use

not to draw a likeness …
… but to find out what it is one sees”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

oh, and this

Intimate Sonnet

daylight and rhinoceroses
I fly to thy side

your back is broad
and pimply

pronounced "blancmange"

I travel your South Downs
I didn't eat, I didn't eat you

she is the pronouns I engender
where can I plug myself in?

like a faint shadow over the lip
the warmth that comes from sleeping

one and one is two
and two is us

and this

Sonnet (Friday)

friday it was friday. friday all day. friday morning in the morning until friday midnight bright. truly friday. friday more likely saturday but friday all the same. good friday. twenty four hour friday. friday today and friday tomorrow. friday a year from monday. thank god it’s friday. fifty per cent friday. just friday getting by. there goes friday.

and so it was: tuesday.

and this

Sonnet In Fourteen Statements

first it was day then night or the other way around

the arrangement of spaces between steps in the stairs

it was the hour when myth fell into desuetude

the angles at which rooms form

like an umbilical tea bag

lumbago is not a vegetable

not the flavour so much as the odour of romance

the sheet of paper crumpled into a ball

writing congeals

an intention had been misplaced

its feathers ruffled the pigeon left

he posits the position of the preposition

the sentence rose up and bit him on the nose

if there is an equivalent then this is it

Good quote

"What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more ... In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art." (Susan Sontag)

Came across this in my re-reading of back issues of the LRB. As I recall, it was originally from 'Against Interpretation'. No matter, it's still worth quoting.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Sonnet (Top & Bottom)

one nose

ten toes

just now

Sonnet Sonnet

eglogs, epytaphes
Barnabe Googe
dyzanes & syxaines
Turberuile to madrigal

will a quire of paper
praise of a lady
glad lyric hail
every line conteyning
rimes arranged according
undivided breath

he is a fool
who cannot one
(he is a fool
who's written two)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

and why not another?

Diagnostic Sonnet

Id is no go
agonal doses
I'd go no go
diagonal noses
I sing Sodo
sad indigo a-go-go
gonad Isis
so sign a dodo
I'd go no no
a do-da gnosis
I'd go O no!
no go Adogo

so so Gogo dago alono
so go logo dodo a' do'no

and another

Wednesday Sonnet

it’s raining
it’s cars
it’s tyres
sticker off
shiny black paperback
On The Road
Penguin Classic
Epictitus is Greek


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

and another

Monday Sonnet (Early)

din the cherubim
this rim of moon
morning brain
downy dawn
chorus cerebellum
ringing in the inner ear
thinner air
a thrumming under

give us this day our dailiness
forgive us our pillows
as we forgive them that pillow against us
for we are the threads left

names unwritten by
and between the lines

and another

Sunday Sonnet

opens a page like
afternoon trees
the spaces between
and beige
tomorrow this very minute
a year ago
how we bypass
like a road to the heart
gnat drift
writing to fit the
not exactly a headache
a faint breeze and breathing
means conspire

Here's one I prepared earlier

Supermarket Sonnet

we wish you
a good return
rich in fibre
crunchy bits
barbecue paraphernalia

beauty is a sensation
which doesn’t stick

bye bye cellulite

thank you
for having chosen

- us

- shoe laces

- inner soles


... and there in the post room is a package containing 'Daily Sonnets'.

The first poem I open the book on? 'Sonnet Written with Lisa Jarnot'. Ha!

And from the short essay at the back:

"Consider ways to rearrange your time and space tendencies as a method (write yourself out of whatever existing parameters you fall into) and see what happens. ... A plea against invisibility or blindness to whatever circumstances you find yourself within. The circumstance may also become, inform, or suggest the poem and the practice. ... This book is an invitation."


For me, the timing couldn't be better.

Foxy lady

Laynie Browne's 'The Scented Fox' arrived on Monday and I've got as far as page 47 'Waxberry, the Forbidden'. It's a lovely volume - one of those you wish you'd thought of, written, even come close to doing. I notice it was selected by Alice Notley for the National Poetry Series - and if it's good enough for her, then it's good enough for me.

Why do I like it?

Lines such as "To a little croft" or "gradually tiny centuries". (There are lots more).

A structure to the volume which embeds and intersperses two series of poems within the 'main' texts, allowing all sorts of crossings and echoes and half-caught resonances.

A vocabulary which is moving fast across the centuries and screeching across disciplines.

Sentences which warp fairy tale with science with proverbial sayings.

Evident procedures such as dictionary ransacking, text sampling and oulipo strategies which - 98 per cent of the time - work.

Evident precursors (real or projected) - Lisa Robertson, Christine Stewart, Gertrude Stein, Lisa Jarnot, Bernadette Mayer, Martin Corless-Smith, Donald Barthelme.

Fox ... faux ... guying Fawkes and folks ... foxed pages (as against 'crofting' which is to bleach linen sheets on the grass)... plenty of fun to be found here!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

W.G. Sebald


“Sitting with my wife in a small and unpretentious hotel somewhere to the east of Bremen in the August of 2005, my thoughts turned to the wine menu. Before us the garden lay verdant and well-tended while in the air hung an atmosphere suggestive of those lines of Holderlin which I have never quite managed to remember despite considerable efforts.

Our children were playing at a distance, their cries reaching us at intervals, a reminder of the inextinguishable ‘espoir’ of youth. As for the other guests, they were of advanced years and sat staring out across the garden as one might imagine a sailor surveying an expanse of ocean unsure of the beckoning horizon.

A waiter approached. His face bore a moustache which in its hirsute exactitude evoked for me an actor I once saw in an out of the way amateur production taking place under the auspices of the Bath Theatre Arts Centenary in 1985. The name of the said thespian escapes me and yet his embodiment of Friedrich in Thomas Mann’s much-overlooked play ‘Der Spiegel im Spiegelei’ was uncanny to say the least.

On asking whether we desired red or white, I was nonplussed. Who, indeed, would order red in such a locale? Yet, on pressing the jolly individual, I was apprised that they possessed no less than three red wines of unsurpassed excellence. I ordered accordingly.

Was it Montaigne, the renowned spider of Nantes, who argued that a thing untried was a thing beyond belief? I can only assert that when the said bottle arrived I understood the apothegm with an unforeseen force. The ruby liquid that coursed into the glass bearing, I noticed some three years later, the imprimatur of Johann Van Den Dinn the illustrious glassblower of Utrecht, was of a quality comparable only to urine extracted from rats kept in the manner made famous by the Emperor Tchi-Tchi-Tchang-Tzu …

(extracted from a hitherto unpublished novel by W.G. Sebald ‘The Lecturer’s Sabbatical’)


Somewhere – maybe – there exists a rather cruddily made book bearing the title ‘The Shabbiness of Intent’. I made it for Ben Watson (aka ‘Out To Lunch’) by way of a thank you for his hospitality and chat about Zappa and other stuff during a week up in Leeds. Typically, Ben sent this around and it ended up with Iain Sinclair (the target of the parody). According to Ben, when asked what he thought of it, Sinclair replied he’d found it amusing but self-parody was implied in his own project. So why would someone else try it on?


So, Sunday evening, trying to make sense of reading Sebald’s ‘Rings of Saturn’ from cover to cover f-i-n-a-l-l-y, I’m thinking back to to my parody of Sinclair.

I’ve tried to read R.o.S. several times and abandoned it. The tone of the initial pages grated. Like the waiter in the German hotel there seemed too much earnestness, self-belief, uninflected irony – a text which took itself too seriously. (As if anyone is going to drink German red wine!).

Then, on moving into Chapter 6, I began to think more seriously about the novel, Sebald, the ‘Sebald phenomenon’ if you like.


I began to realize I can use this text. A text which is – as I now realize – about detecting patterns, recurrence, a sense of a Grand Design. Yet, at the same time, questioning such desires, playing with such hopes, wondering if they are ultimately a trap.

I like the astronomical-astrological metaphorics: Saturn the planet of rules, discipline, structure, melancholia, Aquarius, coolness.

I like the opening epigrams –

Crystallizations and fragments of a former moon circling the main planet (my Reading Cosmos model of last week is proof enough)

Conrad’s statement about those who follow the shoreline (a periplum, of sorts)

And the page from the silk pattern book – “the only true book” as the text asserts later – which is, as such, what W.G.S. is doing throughout: sampling.

Yet we cannot ignore how in the b&w reproduction the colours are lost. How the figures once denotative of orders are now suggestive of ciphers or magical numbers. How “dyeing” carries its inevitable punning dark double. How the elegant calligraphy is both aesthetically satisfying and poignant in terms of a long lost culture of the living hand.

That W.G.S. interleaves this ‘hors-texte’ and then as pages 284 and 285 confirms the significance: text and sampling. (And, of course, the whole thematics of silk manufacture).

It doesn’t require great insight to realize that W.G.S. is exploring what is real, incontrovertible, tangible, proveable, actual – the list goes on – in modern society. He employs a narrator who is seemingly plausible and the use of photographic ‘proof’ seems to serve to confirm the documentary veracity of the ‘story’.

And then it occurs to me: what if W.G.S. is – himself – a posture? In other words, quite how far back does one ironize this text?

I don’t know much about the biographical W.G.S. beyond what the back cover and Google searches throw up. As a German academic he’d be the witness of the destruction and radical questioning of a German identity (Wim Wenders and ‘Wings of Desire’ come to mind). He then ‘adopts’ England as his homeland and – judging by R.o.S. – becomes a target for that cliché: “more English than the English”.

In my notes (you see, it’s catching!) I find many questions: Where are we? In a hospital room? In another writer’s book? In a gallery looking at a painting? In another writer’s house? Walking the East Anglian coast?

Who are we? Or “I”?. No quotation marks allow a gliding into and out of other I’s. What else is citation? How many voices are there?

There’s a recurrent interest in the activity of the writer – W.G.S. connects this with the silk worm and the spinner of shimmering fabrics. There’s the desire to find and give order while at the same time an awareness that this might be nothing but self-delusion and an exercise in futility. (Thus, W.G.S. talking with Michael Hamburger; the man making his model of the Temple – a re-working of Kafka’s ‘The Man Before The Law’ surely?; explicit and implicit references to Coleridge).

There’s the recurrent theme of human atrocities – damage, destruction, killing, maiming, torturing, wars.

There’s the fascination with pattern, of underlying order and Thomas Browne’s texts. Yet, at the same time, a fascination with the anomalous, the freak, the deformity, the exception to the rule.

It’s a text which is microscopic and telescopic at the same time. Broad sweeps and then a focusing upon a single detail. And it occurs to me that this is how we conceive of the vast: planets and galaxies. We bring them down to the size of our own thoughts. (Thus, the typical exercise of conceptualizing the Cosmos as Wembley Stadium, the sun is an orange on the centre spot, then the earth is … and so on.)


And speaking of coincidences … R.o.S. is full of them. Yet how many other coincidences and symmetries were – are – will there be? Is it simply a degree of subtlety and refinement of attention? And thus R.o.S. is another text about the ability of the human mind to know – fully - any one moment (and which, just maybe, contains them ALL?).

And would we really cope – (and here I’m reminded of that Rilkean cry to the Angels) with a Being so ultimately mapped, so intense in its significance? If I should sneeze ... then what?

And are we not – dare we suggest? – simply projecting? Hopeless paranoiacs seeing systems and correspondences everywhere? Writing ourselves into random events in an attempt to give ourselves a sense of purpose?

Sebald’s text invites such a reader looking for clues and correspondences. Yet how many are there? (e.g. the speckled throat of the Flaubert scholar and the waitress serving fish in the seedy hotel). Were these ‘actual’ coincidences? Are they novelistic embellishments? Was one ‘really’ observed and the other added for thematic purposes? And does it really matter in any case?

The ‘real’ and its textual doubling become hard to differentiate – no concidence, then, that W.G.S. uses Borges. Maybe it is no longer the case of the one standing over from the other. The fictional has already taken over ‘the real’, parasited it, become absorbed within.

A good question: is Sebald purveying an elaborate hoax. Or is he deadly serious?

And that’s what I began to sense round about Chapter 5. Sometimes the publisher’s puffs are quite revealing. Take this:

“the workings of a wonderfully learned and rigorous mind”
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Sunday Times

What suddenly dawned on me was the possibility that W.G.S. was even prepared to play with his own professional ‘persona’. To enter into a parody of the (from an English point of view) so desireable European intellectual emigre figure. The kind of shabby-genteel figure I remember so well in places such as the British Library Reading Room or the lesser-known alcoves of the Bodleian. No one quite knows what they are working on but it will emerge in instalments in obscure publications shelved and un-read. That the metropolitan media would shower praise on such a figure is no great surprise. They’re far too busy at publishing lunches to actually read the stuff. ("A book which changed my life" Felicity Forbes, Time Out, - which is why she still lives in Wimbledon). They’re much happier being able to project an aura of ‘authenticity’ upon such figures, a kind of aesthetic deodorant for their profit-driven desires, to then get back to the spread sheets.

I think W.G.S. knew this. I think it is like a hollow laugh running through the text. A 'sort-of' novel (great gimmick W.G.!) which mimes so well the academic-foot-note-library-stack-Casaubon-pipe-sucking-tweedy jacket-corduroy trouser-Senior-Common-Room-visiting-Professorship-stereotype. Yes, those long sentences – but don’t they go on just a bit TOO long? The references to pausing to note down one’s reflections – are they not just TOO studied and precious (Nabokov? Rilke?)? Would anyone REALLY cultivate a Sailor’s Reading Room in such a fashion ("there's that Professor Sebald again - shame he hasn't a home to go to")? Who would painstakingly keep clippings of the Eastern Daily Press (other than your eighty-year-old grandma or Sherlock Holmes)?

Is this what is truly “haunting” – to use another of those reviewer’s words – about Sebald’s text : a papery ghost hovering above modern literary publishing houses which will consume so readily anything with the whiff of the library candle burnt at both ends?

"The authentic authenticity still exists! That will shift another million copies! Shelve the Harry Potter biography!"

In the Bloomsbury pubs, calls of “Doubles all round!”.


Phew! Got that off my chest.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

" Ma "

Going back through stacks of LRBs finding articles that had passed me by.

Having just been reading Heidegger on The Work of Art, these paragraphs seem timely ...

"With the ma we reach the theoretical heart of Isozaki’s historical and architectural investigation. It is a category in which he has had a lifelong interest, having designed a Paris exhibition on the topic in 1978. It was an exhibition he was characteristically unwilling to repeat in Japan itself for some twenty-five years in the apprehension that it would give aid and comfort to a nativism or Japan-ness to which he was opposed and against which this whole book is an argument. Still, the ma is clearly enough itself (literally) one of those ‘ancient Japanese phonemes’ which has no Western equivalent and which must therefore argue for the existence of precisely that East/West gap on which the various culturalisms thrive. Indeed, we can ourselves only convey it negatively: thus, it is not nothingness, but it is not something either. Can the notion of relationality which has everywhere in the West begun to supplant the old Aristotelian conceptions of substance be of any use here? Yet relationality scarcely conveys the negative or destructive component of the ma, for Isozaki at least partly associated with ruins and rubble. The ma also designates for him a primordial unity of time and space which we can only mystically approximate. He himself borrows a dictionary entry: ma ‘originally means the space in between things that exist next to each other; then comes to mean an interstice between things – chasm; later, a room as a space physically defined by columns and/or byobu screens; in a temporal context, the time of rest or pause in phenomena occurring one after another’.

The category of the ma then echoes an archaic or sacred concept, namely that of the niwa or empty bounded space which awaits the visitation of the gods: a profoundly ambiguous place which can either mean Entzauberung – the death or disappearance of the divine or of meaning – or the promise of its reappearance (a promise never invalidated by its turning out to be a broken one). In this, the ma would not so much fall into that range of contemporary appeals to the mythic (from Beuys and Pasolini on down), nor betray a filiation with some Heideggerian or etymological return to primordial social experience. Rather, it could also count as one of those moments in which the groping for new concepts and new categories of a historically original experience of spatiality in late capitalism, in globalisation and postmodernity, intersects with a form from the past and recognises in it a possible response to its own new needs and urgencies. The new category must still be marked with otherness, since we do not really have it yet concretely; it remains part of a utopian language of which we glimpse only the external face of its articulations and expressiveness. But that otherness is no longer national, cultural, racial or ethnic; for in globalisation Japan no longer exists in the old national or culturalist way.

(Fredric Jameson in a review of 'Japan-ness in Architecture' by Arata Isozaki,
translated by Sabu Kohso LRB 5 April 2007)


Finished 'Rings of Saturn'. I'm revising my opinions on Sebald ...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

This afternoon

my first Studio Ghibli film - and I'm impressed. Fairy tales, Jonathan Swift, Terry Gilliam, Panamarenko all rolled into one.

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...