Sunday, 5 July 2015
I pull out Black Unity. Inside there is a photograph of Pharaoh Saunders, majestic with his afro hair and mandarin profile. I look at this photograph and I try to see what Richard Seymour sees.
I’m on the sofa listening to the two basses, hippie percussion, Pharaoh’s saxophone, and that lazy trumpet line; then the two basses again, and a reference to A Love Supreme. I look at the photograph. But nothing comes to me. I try so hard, but I do not see what Richard Seymour sees.
Thursday, 2 July 2015
An artist. She floats on the wreckage of a sunken love affair.
A fragile fairy tale. It collapses; her mind in fragments; her life a tearful cataract.
She is an artist creating beauty out of loss.
An artist. She must destroy her world; only then can she invent a paradise.
Saturday, 20 June 2015
Friday, 10 April 2015
We imagine a door. On that door two names are written: Tarabas by Joseph Roth. The door opens. A man walks out, he looks like a character from Dostoevsky. We hear him speak, and are sure that we have met him before; scurrying through the pages of The Idiot. This man’s mind is populated by pixies and dwarves; it is saturated with mystical signs and personal portents; it believes in fate; convinced that its owner is foredoomed to be both saint and murderer. The book is even set in Russia, at a time the country itself was suffering a mental breakdown.
Yet there is a crucial difference between Roth and his Russian compadre. In Tarabas, as in nearly all of Roth’s books, the hero (or more accurately: anti-hero) is situated within a community; Tarabas forming part of ensemble which, although described lightly, is caught with miraculous fullness. We therefore recognise this hero as a powerful and complete human being; he is not some moral imbecile or a mad tyrant but a mature product of all the influences that surround him. This man is human; albeit he is qualitatively different from any of his colleagues: more extreme, more aloof, more capable of cruelty and self-sacrifice than anyone else. But: Tarabas is no superman. Like all the other characters in this novel he submits to forces more powerful than himself. We watch how the world affects him. We see how peace and the rise of the new nationalisms quickly restrict his freedom; taking away not only his power but the honour and recklessness of his life as a frontline officer. When the war ends he, like all the other soldiers, is forced to bow down to the bureaucrats. The clerks are in charge now.
Sunday, 15 March 2015
Led Zeppelin were playing when we walked in. Nothing has changed! Thirty years and I return to the music of my youth. I look around, and recognise the same faces, the same clothes, the same casual eagerness; and yes, that same easy confidence is still there. Nothing has altered. Only the accents are a little more homogenous than before. All the differences belong to me. The most obvious is the most terrifying - I look into the mirror of these pretty faces to see the uglinesses of age. I panic. A friend tries to calm be down. It is no use. I stupidly ask for a black marker and an eraser… Gently she tells me what a fool I am. Time, she says, is not a badly written exercise we can rub out and start again. So wise. I do not listen; of course I do not. I am crying on the floor when an old couple walks past. Glory be to God Almighty! I get up. Wave. And blow kisses in their direction. My friend pulls me down with her gentle sardonic smile.
A university is an Eden, where adolescence lives on for all eternity. Time has actually stopped on this campus; around about 1974, is what I roughly calculate, based on this brief visit. My friends certainly felt it. Tonight we have come to enjoy a few hours of nostalgia. Though we need to keep our irony close at hand - for should we really be feeling sentimental about a bunch of perverts and sexual predators? But we cannot help it. What a joy it is! For time civilises all things; turning a once aggressively avant-garde play into a homely period piece that even grandma can watch. The 1970s. What days they were! A decade when transgression was as innocent as an episode of Blue Peter.1
As a teenager I thought about literature only through the filter of politics. Insensitive to the shades of meaning that exist between the words - literature evokes meaning it doesn't denote it, a lesson it took me a decade at least to learn - I needed some big ideas to take the place of these invisible mysteries. Politics was the perfect helpmeet and substitute. A child of the times, I grew up in a decade still experiencing the excitement of political evangelicalism, I therefore had plenty of help around. The radicals only too willing to tell me that artists are the fools of Capitalism and the servants of the exploiting classes.2 It seemed so exciting back then. We could be rebels. And at virtually no cost. It was so much fun. And we were so righteous! Because of course we were on the side of the Good and the Just. We knew that we were right. Knowledge and Reason were our allies. Anybody who stood against us was without question stupid, ignorant and silly; or worse: we suspected that most of our enemies were covert Nazis; their liberalism undoubtedly a sham. It was all so easy. We were going to change the world with our words. Well, not quite our’s exactly; Marx’s, Gramsci’s, Althusser’s…3
Tonight, as I listen to Led Zeppelin, I return to these times, and I wonder: could I really have been such a klutz. Did I really think all that?
When the song ends I have my answer….
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
We need to put this film into more comprehensible terms. A girl reaches puberty and has her first period. At the same time a band of travelling players enters her home town. They are joined by a group of missionaries. Both will entertain the inhabitants for a week. There are to be many stories, much licentious behaviour, some sermons and plenty of ascetic bloodletting. The burning of witches is set to be the highlight of these seven tumultuous days. Put into such workaday prose the picture is clear: the Lord of Misrule has come to this medieval town.