Monday, December 31, 2012

Just found this in among the 'Z' section at Fnac ... it had slipped under my radar ... 




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Finer moments indeed ... as a rule I don't much like the days between Christmas and the New Year marred as they typically are by bloatedness, fugged head, tensions, tantrums and the many other joys of the so-called festive season. All the more extraordinary, then, to report that I've actually rather enjoyed Wednesday through to Saturday. Being able to get down to some real uninterrupted reading is a major factor: Thursday I picked up Out of Sheer Rage and read it right through between 11 am and 4 pm and then yesterday I managed much the same with Zona. It's felt a bit like spending Christmas with Geoff Dyer which - given he's quite a subtle self-fictionaliser - is probably very different from the Real Thing. 

Reading GD I'm constantly having flashes of self-recognition: he likes/hates this too, he did this/he does this too, he's read this book/listened to this CD/seen this film too ... You start thinking he'd be the ideal older brother you never had or the guy two years ahead at school or university who has the great record collection or has sussed that off-syllabus author and is going to let you in on it too. I read the essays on being an only child, the Oxford memoirs, the wasted twenties anecdotes with a distinct sense of deja vu (minus the drug appetite and - alas - the higher hit rate with girl friends (or maybe this is all part of the self-mythologizing ((I have it on good authority that Hunter S. Thompson just filed his copy from an office while sipping Perrier ...))). And, let's be honest, not a little downright envy - for despite the chronic dissipation and procrastination he has (damn it!) sat in front of the word processor long enough to squeeze out a string of novels and volumes of essays. 

Be that as it may, the Lawrence book is a delight and I'm pleased to have snuck it in before 2012 is out.   In a funny way it's as though I was meant to read it, a timely goad in the lead up to the New Year (pp 126 & 127 hit home with particular resonance - have a look and you'll see why). It's a funny book but not, perhaps, as funny as Steve Martin makes it out to be on the cover quote. One reason is that I detect behind the humour something much darker. GD is pretty upfront with his sources, the writers who've influenced and inspired him, often indeed incorporating them directly into his text. Thus, Rilke, Nietzsche, and - obviously - Lawrence get a look in (and read other Dyer works and they'll crop up again - sometimes even the very same quotes). However, I feel there are two other figures that haunt the Lawrence book of which he is either unaware or reluctant to declare. The first is Beckett - read any of those long permutational sequences and you're back in the world of Watt (for instance the absurd arguments and counter-arguments as to how Watt got into Mr Knott's house). GD follows through each  possibility only to eventually abandon the whole charade. Pure early-to-Trilogy Beckett (did GD also have the benefit of Val Cunningham as his tutor at Corpus, I wonder?). The second is Deleuze, an influence which goes right to the (half-)heartedness of GD's project (since, despite protestations to the contrary it's bloody obvious that his volumes trace a trajectory for all the seeming haphazardness). It's not the air flights and geographical leapfrogging but the lines of flight GD is perpetually devising and inscribing as he deliberates which book to pack, or whether to write an essay or the novel or just go out for a coffee, or that wonderful closing sequence on putting on a CD (p 230 on). 







And then ... Zona ... a book I curse for the very fact I should have written it or - more accurately - should have written on Nostalgia. Again, that sense of deja vu: as GD describes is first encounter with Tarkovsky, so I remember distinctly walking into the ( - name of cinema forgotten - ) on St. Martin's Lane and watching the opening sequence of Nostalgia (the VW driving across the screen and then back around, the mists, the Italian translator in that over coat, the Russian poet with the white bar on his hair ...). Cliched as it sounds, I was transfixed - I had never. seen. anything. like. this. before. Full stop. The film finished (it must have been an early afternoon showing) and I promptly paid again and went back in. Back in Oxford late that evening I raved about the strange valley sequence, the girl turning to look across at the house as the sun miraculously lifts above the roof. From then on Tarkovsky was the Absolute Test, a cultural shibboleth at parties (you like Tarkovsky? said blending tones of astonishment, approval, soul kinship and do-you-have-a-boyfriend? O callow youth ...).

This aside, what about Zona? I like it in many ways* - for the asides, for the odd insights thrown up along the way (although plenty others are easily available if you've read the same biographies, watched the bonus features, etc), for the irritabilities - how I relish page 48 where GD sounds off on Jeremy Clarkson et al. I also go for that deceptive immediacy of style that was also seductive in the Lawrence book, that impression that you're in situ with GD, hovering somewhere above his fingers as he types or just a few steps behind as gives up for the day and goes to the kitchen to make a coffee. If he's one of the best writers to embody the Deleuzean line of flight then he also has to be one of the best writers to write about writing. Forget Annie Dillard (well, not entirely, she's good, too) Dyer is your man. And, of course, that's really what Zona is about and why GD went for the film big time. And it explains, too, the title of that volume of essays: Working the Room (a title I couldn't quite work out before). The room. Which room? The room that Porcupine leads people too with no guarantee they will be admitted or what they will receive; the room that Dyer - like any writer - enters to sit and write and which itself is the threshold to that other space - or Zone - of what happens on the page.

You begin to see that GD is writing the same book again and again. I have to go back to But Beautiful although I can remember just enough of it to realise now it's about - again - the mystery of creation, specifically improvisation and Jazz. GD constructing the text out of a series of improvisations on photographs. Zona, a set of improvisations played off each frame of Tarkovsky's film. Out of Sheer Rage, an extended improvisation upon - a photograph of Lawrence? the idea of writing an anti-academic study of Lawrence? the idea of not writing a book at all? or (even more disturbingly) of doing nothing at all ? (& you see why Beckett is there in the background and why GD needs the counter energies of Deleuze and Nietzsche).

That's the figure in the carpet. That's what causes this writer to hesitate on the threshold. Or, to put it another way -

"And there you have it. One way or another we all have to write our studies of D. H. Lawrence".
(Out of Sheer Rage, p 231)

So true. And an important thought to take into 2013.

A happy & creative New Year everyone.

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* however, the very asides are also what - for me, at least, also jeopardise this project. What Dyer commends in Tarkovsky - the absence of cliche, the refusal to stoop to popular culture, the Grand Design and absolute integrity sit awkwardly with GD's off the cuff remarks. The structure, too, which I am sure he'd defend as embodying the very principle of an unfolding experience is - um ... - perhaps a bit too easy/lazy? There are - to use Barthes' expression - places where the text prattles  as GD is obliged to see through his commentary to the bitter end. What if he'd stuck with the idea of working in a series of sections dictated by the takes or - like Maggie Nelson in Bluets - an assembly of fragments? Yes, maybe that's what GD needs - a bit more poetry in the mix, the readiness for a more radical break with linear narrative. What happens when digression becomes the actual structure? Well, you probably lose your publishing contract as the sales plunge but it's worth a thought.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

"It is this mass of unclean world that we have superimposed on the clean world that we cannot bear. ... all these little amorphous houses like an eruption, a disease on the clean earth; and all of them full of such a diseased spirit, every landlady harping on her money, her furniture, every visitor harping on his latitude of escape from money and furniture. The whole thing like an active disease, fighting out the health. One watches them on the sea-shore, all the people, and there is something pathetic, almost wistful in them, as if they wished their lives did not add up to this scaly nullity of possession, but as if they could not escape. It is a dragon that has devoured us all: these obscene, scaly houses, this insatiable struggle and desire to possess, to possess always and in spite of everything, this need to be an owner, lest one be owned. ... " (D.H. Lawrence - from a letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith, 1915)

... turning these sentences over in my mind as I sat waiting for L. in the Camberley shopping centre & - the next day - drifting around M&S at The Meadows. The radio, too, is in on the act with each news bulletin predicting Sales fever or reporting 'footfall' across the land (how strange that such a poeticism is now part of the jargon of marketing). The pressure these days is not even subliminal. And what, after all, are we buying - or, perhaps it is more accurate to say - buying into?

Is there anything else I can get you?

That tone of voice. That dissimulation. Helpfulness masking coercion.

Go on - you deserve it. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012


... sitting in the window of the Marlborough Cafe Nero yesterday I see A.C. Grayling walk by. I'm surprised not so much at seeing him as finding I recognise him & can even place a name to the face ...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Merry Christmas 





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Annunciation

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... so it wasn't, in fact, the end of the world. At least, in quite that way. Since we all know (post-Proust) that each day is assembled anew from the fragments of the old: that (post-Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche) every instant is an apocalypse as the dice are thrown once again anew (but are you ready to accept?). And that (post-Cage) every day is a new pair of ears if only one is open & generous enough to listen ... 

... so what do you do on the day that is not-the-end-of-the-world but is - it is generally agreed - the shortest day (& Frank Zappa's birthday for good measure - how we miss him more with every passing year) but read John Donne ('A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy's Day') and then some Wallace Stevens to cheer ourselves up ('Evening without Angels') and later settle down to watch Tarkovsky's Stalker a film which - astonishing & embarrassing as it is to admit I have never seen in its entirety ("and you say you're a Tarkovsky fan???...") - which seems to be the film to watch on such an evening ... 

... & then, waking up this morning (hello world!) normal service continues & yet not since the radio is playing a fascinating panel discussion on Noise as Art (& I'm thinking well, perhaps the world really has changed as if this is the World Service then I'm Lord Reith) ... but of course there's a rational explanation: I pressed the wrong pre-set and this is actually a programme issuing from London's Resonance FM - but it goes to show ... 

... & catching up on some listening of the past few weeks, here are three recommended CDs. I was adamant that the chord progression of track one on the Bobo Stenson was 'Send in the Clowns' but the CD notes said 'Oleo de mujer con sombrero' (which even with my Spanish doesn't mean the same thing). Then, seeing the track listing come up in iTunes the penny drops - this isn't the right case for the CD. The Ear had its Reason! 'Send in the Clowns' it is. Give them a spin. Plus the Belcea Quartet versions of Britten's String Quartets which I am too lazy to upload as another image ... No. 2 is especially wonderful ... 



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... & also, in case you're interested ... I got hold of the slim Penguin Selected Letters of D.H. Lawrence. I'd seen it in the Nijinsky secondhand bookshop in town last week and (typically) um-ed and ah-ed and put it back. When will I learn? Buy on sight or regret later! True enough, during the week - after reading a couple of articles about Geoff Dyer - the volume has come under the ESSENTIAL category. Thus, at ten to eleven this morning there I am (plus L.) shivering in the doorway waiting for the shop to open. When the owner finally turns up, I race in & put my finger on exactly the spot where it was last week. *Gasp!* There's an ominous paperback's width empty space ... Now this is the sort of thing that brings the world to the end. I start cursing my thrifty stupidity of a week ago & then the old browser's savvy takes over: someone just might have put it back in a different place ... &, true enough, there under Gender & Feminism (someone with a sense of humour?) was the Desired Object. 4 euros 50 cents. Let's not quibble. I pay & we run out into the rain. That'll keep me going over Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

For my Mum:

click on this link below:


http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/nov/30/delia-smith-christmas-lunch-cheap


Friday, December 14, 2012


 
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... three more from the notebook swap ... 

Thursday, December 13, 2012











... two collages from an ongoing sketchbook swap. Two or three little books are in circulation at work & it's a valuable loosening up exercise. More to come (I hope) ...

Friday, December 07, 2012






... the snow arrived at 6 o'clock - the worst of all possible scenarios as you're then obliged to drive in regardless. Earlier, and the bus service will refuse to go out. As it turns out I'm saved by a timely phone call from a colleague. The SMS alert hasn't worked (surprise!) and so we're back to calling each other. (Bad luck everyone already committed to the roads and railways).

Irritation is succeeded by relish at the prospect of a day gifted by the weather.

... & so it goes ... & so it snows ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A new routine














"The way to your husband's heart" said the man in the tea shop, apparently. Then again, he would say that, wouldn't he?

Anyway, this is the latest green tea in the collection & jolly nice it is too. However, it comes with strict instructions not to be imbibed late in the day due its particular energising powers. Thus, I had a cup this morning & found it was indeed peculiarly invigorating. (No, I'd never have believed five years ago that I would be drinking something that resembles a mouth of freshly cut grass at 6:15 a.m. either ... but, so be it).

Recommended to all like-minded early risers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012







"You must be drunk always. That is everything: the only question. Not to feel the horrible burden of Time that crushes your shoulders and bends you earthward, you must be drunk without respite.

But drunk on what? On wine, on poetry, on virtue - take your pick. But be drunk ..."

(xxxiii, 'Be Drunk', Paris Spleen, Charles Baudelaire, trans. Keith Waldrop)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


"And so I did walk around it, and I looked at all the things that it was, how it looked, and how its shoulders were, and how its legs were and tried to see what kind of animal this was, and eventually I feel I did understand it, its meaning, the how of its meaning." (Ted Berrigan, 'The Business of Writing Poetry' in 'On The Level Everyday')

I used this as part of yesterday's talk & a colleague attempted to translate it into pedagogy-speak (cognitive strategies etc.) missing the point entirely. Not just that Berrigan would be utterly resistant to such theoretical language, but that the statement as it stands is so much better. The way, for instance, he plays with his reader: what kind of beast is being described? The development of each clause that enacts a stage of feeling discovery. And then the deliberate ungrammaticality of 'how' turned substantive. Simultaneously defining as enacting the astonishment of poetic meaning.

To say it in other words is to diminish the language. And this, sadly, is what is happening within education. A feeble, abstracted, dead & deadly discourse is poisoning creative thinking and teaching. Managerialism that thinks, perceives and evaluates only what it understands - a law of ever-diminishing returns. And in such stark contrast to the vitality of Berrigan's prose, through whose syntax the life-blood of human feeling and imagination flows.

In these dark days, never did poetry seem so vital.

Sunday, November 11, 2012










... another Saturday visit to the Artist Books section of the local library. The librarian lugs a large cardboard box containing new arrivals & so I get first dibs on what's just come in. Plenty of finds including this catalogue including work by usual suspects such as Joanna Drucker but also several artists (all women) new to me ...

... checking the stats & I see that the previous bread shop post is getting hundreds of hits (maybe I should take out shares) ...

... general relief over here at Wednesday's result (OK, OK Obama isn't perfect but given the alternative ... ) ...

... assuming the US continues safe in terms of political climate & hurricanes, we're beginning to plan a visit scheduled for next Easter (land in Washington to stay a few days & then on to The Big Apple). If anyone has any advice in terms of hotels, areas to stay, must-see exhibitions etc. please keep me posted as we go into the New Year.

I vividly remember our last visit (my only) some fifteen years ago - the dream-like experience of entering Borders - still disoriented by the flight - & seeing title after title on the Poetry shelves by all the names I worshipped. Indeed, the Land of Plenty. ...

... something of a celebration in our road as the Commune blocks plans for the house next door to be converted into three apartments. At the hearing, there's the rather bizarre situation of the developers speaking only Flemish and the Planning Committee only French. (It explains how poor decision-making goes on in this country.) Thankfully, K. speaks both languages & so acts as an impromptu translator - much to the chagrin of the developers who must have hoped they could smuggle all sorts of contraventions in. So - as we say in English - yah boo sucks to them. ...

... tomorrow, my presentation on teaching poetry as part of an In-Service Day. Quite a few colleagues seem to have signed up for what has been mistakenly entitled Poetry - A Trick Genre. God knows who came up with that - certainly not me. I've pulled together extracts from the likes of Gizzi, Duncan, Creeley etc. - by way of insisting on poetry's fundamental resistance to orthodoxy and importance way beyond the confines of syllabuses and examinations. I'll let you know what transpires. ...


Monday, November 05, 2012






















... a wonderful bread shop in Louvain ... each bread a sculpture ...

Friday, November 02, 2012






I was quite a fan of the Logitech Squeezebox Internet radio until about 24 hours ago. Since then, all attempts to reconnect have failed (our wi-fi signal is fine, the radio itself is functioning, & I've restored factory settings & re-entered the password & all that jazz).

Anyone else out there in Europe with similar gripes?

A new month, a new notebook. The temptation is to buy yet another when there are stacks piled up boxes. So ... why not eschew the ready-made & set to work on the covers themselves?





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(Japanese newspaper used to wrap teapot, 'art' papers, PVA, sepia & black inks, scratchings) 

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Perspiration on transparent skin. Hopes trickle. Stirrings abroad & grey swathe. Thyme & bay. Onion soup weather & pumpkin lobotomies.

...

Back after three days in Blighty. You know you've arrived in Pound Land within minutes of entering the service station: Because You've Earned It sloganed above a cup of coffee. Buy a newspaper and the immediate demand whether you want a chocolate bar with that? No. Why? & several other questions. I wince to think of the training sessions in which employees are drilled through their responses.

I realise the way to counter such tactics is to say - while placing the objects to be bought on the counter - "Just these two" in a firm I've made up my mind voice.

...

Having packed the Duncan H.D. Book & Lisa's Duncan biog. in the hope of settling down to some Real Work, I should have known that something else would come up: a rather good Sean Scully monograph in the local library. I read it through in an afternoon & then spend another day plundering it. (Watch this space).

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Another visit to The Dump. Piles of dead electronics, collapsed cardboard, vacant chairs. All too evident where this is leading ...

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Catch up on the last Thick of It via BBC iPlayer, cursing like Malcolm Tucker the way the BBC block this service to ex-pat viewing. In a way, the very people who'd most appreciate it.

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Images of the US hurricane. Thoughts go out to all (any?) Blog readers over there on the East Coast (Geof ... Lisa J ... Michael L ... ).

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Last night we take advantage of the girls being out Hallowe'ening & go to Le Fils de Jules in search of cassoulet. The waitress explains it's too early in the month - tant pis, it was delicious. Instead we settle for confit canard & a bottle of Spanish red. As if this wasn't good enough, there just happens to be a tea shop a few doors down selling the very glass teapot I have been in search of and a new (to me) green tea - Houjicha (grilled Sencha). I make a pot when we get home and it's an extraordinary taste - if I were to say something similar to a mouthful of scallops in garlic and parsley infused with burnt hay? That probably sounds ghastly but it's not, strangely.



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The Reading Oxfam bookshop delivers again, this time an old book on board games (ideal for demolition & collaging) plus the de Botton volume on Proust. I'm always in two (or more) minds about de B - a mixture of irritation and admiration and jealousy I suppose. I refused to read this when it first came out but now prejudices have softened. Interestingly, the previous reader has pencilled the following on the fly leaf: finished 5 Aug - good Don't suggest re-read but dip in again pg 141 pg 156 pg 195. How odd.

The book is good, I have to admit. As much for what it says about Proust (I assume mostly derived from de B's reading of the letters, biographies & other studies) as its structure. The decision to work the material as a series of How To chapters and the fragmentary paragraphs is sweet. A volume to read in tandem with Keith Waldrop's Jacob Delafon text.

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The onion soup is cooked.

...

Saturday, October 27, 2012





... Tuesday evening ... watched the Apple launch event, both girls now in the market for iProduct. What better way to witness commodity fetishism in its most seductive guise. However ... realising that any new device is going to require a more sophisticated OS than on the current iMac, I find myself being dragged kicking & screaming into accepting, well, yes, we're going to have to upgrade. And yet ... what do I discover but that the new models are all without DVD/CD drives. So ... is this a surreptitious plot by Apple to get everyone on board iTunes, locked into buying music & films via their store? And what about we Strange People whose tastes fall outside the mainstream? "Buy a SuperDrive!" I hear you say. OK, but i) the current model is not compatible with iMacs and ii) why should I have to she'll out a further 70 or euros? Any thoughts? ...

... driving in on these dark October mornings is brightened by a new set of CDs which come with Geoff Sample's Bird Songs & Calls. It was Clare Balding's Ramblings (Radio 4) that put me onto this book - her ramble last week with Sam West (thespian & amateur ornithologist). The format of the CDs is wonderfully thought out: recordings are spliced together to give the impression you're sitting at a window or wandering along and the various bird calls arise and fade. Meanwhile, Geoff identifies the songs with some further commentary. The juxtaposition of the CD with the early morning traffic flowing out of Brussels is quite disorienting - a whole new genre of sound art. Might not an entire radio station be given over to similar such projects (an hour of waves breaking at Chesil Beach ... weather forecasts which have interludes of actual weather conditions from appropriate locations ((the sound of snow falling in the Lake District, wind blowing from the easy over the South Downs ...))). Imagine. Which is, of course, exactly what such recordings make you do ...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012


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... two CDs worth a listen (great covers, too, don't you think?) ... 


Friday, October 19, 2012








... Reading (Max Eastley) ...

"Silence is a state of no consciousness: if we perceive, we are alive, however tiny the event. Perhaps that is why I strive to find significance through sound and movements that operate on the threshold of perception, offering an elusive, dream-like world which for me is vital and close to the state of life itself. Nature is full of such events. We sometimes think of it as being slow, but we're missing it all the time. It's very, very fast." (Max Eastley)






who could resist? ...

Happened upon a 2CD set of Max Eastley installation recordings (it was the cover what did it) & this, in turn, led to digging around for some video footage of the events themselves. Here's a great sequence - just what one needs after two days of meetings & talking oneself out.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Another visit to the Artist Book section of the local library. More finds and good chat with the librarian and a Brussels-based book artist. There's an increasing sense of an invisible community.

Here are some shots of Catherine Wilkin's (C)Ours Pratique COMMERCE - a terrific two volume detournage of a dreary Economics book.











It seems my crystal ball was not so grubby ... ... resisting the temptation to say "told you so".