Thursday, September 30, 2010

"I had drunk much wine and afterwards coffee and Strega and I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things." (Hemingway, 'A Farewell to Arms')

It's 'winefully' that catches the eye: as an adverb and at that precise point in the sentence.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday already & nearly the end of September. & nothing to show for it. Or rather a collection of thin things - about the best I can do given current circumstances. A daily dribble - more or less. It's the least I can do. Literally.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless." (Hemingway on Scott Fitzgerald).

Monday, September 27, 2010


Rain throughout the weekend & as I sit to type this.

Into every life a little rain must fall - especially if you live in Belgium (proverb).

.

Thursday evening Parents' Evening. Fluctuations between hot and cold. I feel - or the rooms feel - clammy. Handshakes and bodies milling through the cramped corridors. Perfect conditions in which to incubate a cold.

.

Friday. A trip to the Bozar to take the Creative Writing students into the 'field'. That dizzy feeling of being out in the 'real' world. I suggest as an exercise to follow someone around the galleries and take notes - but discreetly ... (no arrests, thankfully). See a good book on Eva Hesse by Briony Fer: Studiowork. It doesn't seem to show up on Amazon, though.

.

Saturday. Find (finally) the CD of Where the Wild Things Are (written & performed by Karen O & The Kids) at the Mediatheque. I like songs that involve spelling.

.

Sunday. No early morning swim but I do make what might be the best bread yet. The girls wolf half of it down at lunch.

In the afternoon I stumble over a step leading onto a terrace & then completely lose my footing on the slippery planks. I lie on the floor howling with pain. My ankle's badly sprained (although for a few minutes I think I've broken it). By the evening it's swollen up to the size of a tennis ball & throbs throughout the night. Yet by the morning the swelling's gone down enough for me to hobble into work. Dollops of self pity.

Driving in I remember reading in an old book on astrology the Aquarian susceptibility to i) sudden temperature changes, ii) problems with the ankles. But I don't believe in all that. Do I? (Nelly used to have a theory about cosmic debris - I forget the details).

.

Advantage/disadvantage of the day job: you suddenly get thrown off track by the need to mug up on an author to supervise an essay. This past week: Hunter S. Thompson (I last read The Great Shark Hunt in ... 1986? ...) and Hemingway (someone I've always steered away from - the notable exception being A Moveable Feast, of course). However, I'm excited by the 1924 original edition of in our time. The short chapters - some barely a hundred words long - without discernible narrative either within or from one to the other. The cover's good, too. I gather Pound was behind the project. Interesting ... Suddenly I want to read Hemingway's early fiction.

.

"It was in that room that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it." ('Miss Stein Instructs', A Moveable Feast)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I think I'm starting a cold. Great.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Carrying around heart badly buried by five shovels (poems by Hugh Thomas with images by Gary Barwin) and dipping in whenever I get the chance. Exactly the kind of volume I relish.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Recently received ...


Articles of Loathing (Geof Huth)




Concerning the Mass Burials in Thuringia (Ultima Thule)



Lots of good stuff from Gary Barwin

*

many thanks to all concerned!

(from) A Day In The Life

7:45 - arrive at work intending to write e-mails & print off files before the day begins. (Thinking: get ahead ... ). Computer screen in permanent sleep mode. No signal. Presumably an ex-screen. It has ceased to Be. Technician needed.

8:30 - start up. Takes 5 minutes to log in, wait for (new) screen to come on, launch programme to take attendance. Meanwhile students sit around nonplussed.

8:35 - finally enter details. Save & send. Peculiar sense of accomplishment. (Hubris).

8:40 - first class of the day - an essay for 50 minutes on a poem by Ferlinghetti (oh, the irony ...). Attempt to print off the earlier files. No printer connected message. Call technician.

9:00 - technician configures printer via remote access. Fascinated by the juggling of windows on the desktop. Look no hands! Send documents to print but am unable to leave the room to collect papers from the centralised printer due to the ongoing class assignment (responsibility to supervise etc.).

9:30 - get to printer to enter code to print off. Wait ten minutes as the printer starts up and then prints off around 100 pages of one-line gobbledegook mixed in with utterly blank pages. Attempts to DELETE JOB are over-ruled. (Logic for the removal of classroom printers? To save paper and ink).

9:40 - at last! My documents start to print. However some are not there. (Frustration). Return to classroom. Meanwhile someone else is using the room. Have to wait. Twiddle thumbs.

10:15 - reboot computer which has been shut down by previous occupant. Re-enter passwords, launch programmes etc. etc.. Try to print missing documents. Discover that the printer is now no longer configured (uh?) and will require further intervention by technician who's now busy on other jobs.

& so it goes ...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ruskin to Pater. The Renaissance to Marius the Epicurean. There's a logic & I feel I'm on to something (but exactly what I cannot say ...)
For the essence of humanism is that belief ... that nothing which has ever interested living men and women can wholly lose its vitality - no language they have spoken, nor oracle beside which they have hushed their voices, no dream which has once been entertained by actual human minds, nothing about which they have ever been passionate, or expended time and zeal. (Pater, 'Pico della Mirandola', The Renaissance)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it produce in me? Does it give me pleasure? and if so, what degree of pleasure? How is my nature modified by its presence, and under its influence? (Pater, 'Preface', The Renaissance)

Friday, September 17, 2010

a distinct chill in the air

*

quiche hot / quiche cold

*

Keats Selected Letters

*

there is a yoga of everything (I am told)

*

clouds at six p.m.

*

another reason to read Ruskin

*

I sustain an interested grin

*

reading as poaching (de Certeau)

*

how people "just want to say" and then take ten minutes to say it

*

the line between pretty and very

*

that Friday evening feeling

*

elaborates his theory of iron railings

*

renewed subscription

*

Thursday, September 16, 2010

School reports

I remember reading my school reports - they'd arrive a few days after the end of term. A small squat folder with slips of paper, one for each subject. I remember - even now - the handwriting: a small crabbed script (DLE), stammering bursts of Pentel (RJ), a florid hand (JF), a self-conscious Gill-inspired italic (CC). The Maths and Science teachers tended to type - but there were still their signatures. The point is the reports had character - both in the sense of letter form and personality. Judging by recent meetings and the unthinking promotion of computers in education, such pleasures will be denied future generations. School reports will have all the individuality of a sales receipt for a fridge - read online, screen fodder, download & print. Credit/ debit. And to raise an objection, to air an opinion to the contrary is to risk being labelled a dinosaur, a Luddite, a voice against Progress.

Progress? The vulgarisation of education gathers pace.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Last night the girls notice that I've lost the left rest on my glasses (the bit that sits against the nose - there's probably a technical term for it). This is the sort of thing that really irritates me - the hassle of getting a new pair ... new prescription ... etc.

However, this afternoon I pop into the opticians near the girls' school. Might it be possible to do a little D-I-Y fix for the time being? The man behind the counter jumps up, examines my specs and suggests he replaces both rests - would I like silicon (softer, more comfortable, fashionable even)? The job takes five minutes and another five minutes for adjustments. We have a pleasant chat as he works. All done I ask him what I owe. Nothing, he replies, other than that I pass the word on. Which I'm only too happy to do. So if you wear glasses and are in the area ...

Faith in the human race restored - at least for the time being.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


On The Corner of the Street (11/ix/10)





In town yesterday morning I pick up a 3 CD set of Miles Davis albums - 'Nefertiti', 'Sorceror' & 'Filles de Kilimanjaro' (at 10 euros who could resist?). Later, down the road from Place du Chatelaine, in the secondhand bookshop, I find a Hogarth Press edition of 'Between the Acts' (pristine condition, too). That's what I call a Saturday morning.
Dinner out last night. The neighbours come round for a drink & stay on for the meal. Suddenly the penny drops that I'd taught the mother's sister fourteen years ago.

It's a small world. Who'd have thought it. etc.

Makes me feel old, though.

Friday, September 10, 2010

And the whole reason for this, as I see it, is that people are under the misapprehension that the human brain is situated in the head; nothing could be further from the truth. It is carried by the wind from the Caspian Sea.
(Gogol, 'Diary of a Madman')

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Reading James Schuyler as I seem to do this time of the year. & each time discovering still more reasons to be in awe. All done so seemingly without effort. The hardest thing, of course.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Watching 'Dad's Army' with the girls - the 'Absent Friends' episode. Lovely scene between Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones about under the counter oxtail. The innuendo goes way over their heads but we enjoy it all the same. The acting carries it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Tim Hilton biography of John Ruskin arrives - a whopping 900 pages plus volume. "Magnificent" according to Guy Davenport - so it must be good.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Bread of flour is good; but there is bread, sweet as honey, if we would eat it, in a good book.

(John Ruskin, 'Of King's Treasuries')

Hope this isn't starting to sound too sanctimonious ...
Sat in on a Philosophy class examining opposites in Blake's 'The Sick Rose'. The phrase "invisible worm" fascinates - Blake's jamming together of latinate abstraction with Anglo Saxon earthiness. The tight, clipped polysyllabic intricacy against a soft yet deceptive monosyllable (how the 'r' makes the tongue work in the dark of the mouth). It's all there. Embodied and writhing in excess.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Anyone know where I can get cheap copies of T. C. Lethbridge books? &/or what's worth reading? The Hollings/Watson article mentions him.

Three Ruskin coincidences

Friday morning, during a class, leafing through a copy of The Rainbow searching for the scene in the stables my eye is caught by this passage:

"He was interested in churches, in church architecture. The influence of Ruskin had stimulated him to a pleasure in the medieval forms. His talk was fragmentary, he was only half articulate ...".

*

Yesterday, reading August's issue of The Wire, Ken Hollings' article on sound recordist/artist Chris Watson, there's a quotation from Ruskin at the top of the page:

"The whole function of the artist in the world is to be a seeing and feeling creature; to be an instrument of such tenderness and sensitiveness, that no shadow, no hue, no line, no instantaneous and evanescent expression of the visible things around him, or any of the emotions which they are capable of conveying to the spirit which has been given him, shall either be left unrecorded, or fade from the book of record."

Hollings gives no source but I manage to track it down in The Stones of Venice, III, ii, v-xii

*

Then this ...

"The railroad is in all its relations a matter of earnest business, to be got through as soon as possible. It transmutes a man from a traveller into a living parcel." (from The Seven Lamps of Architecture)

How strange ... thinking of Wilde and his Importance of Being Earnest. Was this passage in Ruskin the starting point - conscious or otherwise - of Wilde's play?

*

Ruskin, Ruskin, Ruskin ... everywhere I look at the moment. Agh! Why not a verb: to ruskin? I ruskin, you ruskin, he/she ruskins, they ruskin, I ruskined, ...

Saturday, September 04, 2010




This also came during the week - The Worlds of John Ruskin by Kevin Jackson. Littered with typos and the now prevalent hyphen in the middle of a word (a result of copy going straight to print from disc I suspect?), it's a great resource for Ruskin's visual work (pages from the sketchbooks in particular). It was Jackson who sent me off to Proust. There's also a paragraph or two about Wilde - giving up his normal lie-in to assist in the 'Useful Muscular Toil' (!) scheme digging the Hinskey Road. Wilde subsequently boasting of having been allowed to fill "Mr Ruskin's especial barrow" and being given lessons by "the Master" on how to roll it. That would have been worth seeing.

And here's Millais' famous picture of Ruskin for our correspondent in Cheshunt who likes the way he seems to float over the rocks.

Building A Library: September issue



The new CD by The Books - The Way Out - arrived during the week. I listened to it last night. Once again a superb set of aural collaging & vinyl appropriation. Sinister and funny by turns - track 12 The Story of Hip Hop is a particular gem. Highly recommended.


The Creative Writing Class 2010-2011 began this week. The second year I'm offering this as an option and numbers have tripled to 15 or so. Word is spreading ...

Here's the first exercise:
  • Old copy of Great Expectations from which you tear individual pages
  • Distribute a page to each student
  • Ask them to stick the page onto a sheet of white A4 paper
  • They are then left to 'respond' to the page in any way: to circle words, lines, phrases; delete; chop up; work with images; try to derive a narrative within the narrative ... it's up to them.
  • Looking at the result, they can then leave it at that or use this page as the starting point for further work (perhaps a poem composed from the isolated material)
Above is my page - I make no great claims for it. Given the craziness of the first week back (computer problems, info-overload, new faces & new names, meetings ... ) it's good to find the opportunity to make something 'tangible' and a little space in one day at least.



Thursday, September 02, 2010

Quotations from Proust's essay on Ruskin

The events of his life were intellectual ones and its important landmarks those when he penetrated into a new form of art, the year when he understood Abbeville, the year when he understood Rouen, the day when the painting of Titian and the shadow of Titian's painting seemed nobler to him than the painting of Rubens and the shadows of Rubens's painting.

*

... when Ruskin says: "I am alone, as I believe, in thinking still with Herodotus." Anyone of a mind sufficiently discerning to be struck by the feature's of a writer's physiognomy , and who does not hold where Ruskin is concerned to everything he may have been told, that he was a prophet, a seer, a Protestant and other things which mean very little, will feel that such features, though certainly secondary, are yet very 'Ruskinian'. Ruskin lives in a sort of brotherhood with all the great minds of every age, and since he is interested in them only to the extent that they are able to answer the eternal questions, for him there are no ancients and moderns and he can talk of Herodotus as he would of a contemporary.

*

But the stones which he so loved never became abstract examples for him. On each stone you can see the nuance of the passing moment joined with the colour of the centuries. "... Rushing down the street to see St Wulfran again," he tells us "before the sun was off the towers, are things to cherish the past for, - to the end."

*

Whether or not the 'Beau Dieu of Amiens' is what Ruskin thought it was is of no importance for us ... so the truths making up the beauty of the passages in the Bible about Beau Dieu of Amiens have value independently of the beauty of the statue, but Ruskin would not have found them had he spoken of it disdainfully, for enthusiasm alone could give him the power to discover them.

*

... he was one of those 'geniuses' of whom even those amongst us who were endowed at birth by the fairies have need if we are to be intiated into the knowledge of a new part of Beauty ... In death he continues to enlighten us, like the extinguished stars whose light still reaches us ...

*

The object to which a thought like Ruskin's is applied and from which it is inseparable, is not immaterial, it is scattered across the surface of the earth. One must go to seek it wherever it is to be found, to Pisa, to Florence, to Venice, to the National Gallery, to Rouen, to Amiens, into the mountains of Switzerland. Such a thought, which has an object other than itself, which has realized itself in space, which is thought no longer infinite and free but limited and subjugated, which is incarnate in bodies of sculpted marble, in snow-covered mountains, in painted faces, is perhaps less godlike than pure thought. But it makes the universe more beautiful for us, or at least certain parts of it, certain named parts, because it has touched them and initiated us into them by forcing us, if we would understand them, to love them.

*

There is no better way of coming to be aware of what one feels oneself than by trying to recreate in oneself what a master has felt.

*

(all taken from the Penguin edition, Against Sainte-Beuve and Other Essays, trans. John Sturrock)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Just finished reading Proust's essay on Ruskin. I'd never connected the two names.

More to follow.