His near stammering. With disconcerting promptness one word hid behind another. -- Maurice Blanchot, Le Dernier Homme Contact me: red3ad (at) yahoo (dot) com


Cinema is dead. Long live... 

I generally try to keep my excitement in check, but I'm really excited that the new Peter Greenaway film is coming to town; there's an article here, and a link off the page to an interview with Guy Maddin, too.
& what seems to be a rather fascinating site regarding PG, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, The Falls, etc.

The Art of Walking 

[Ed. note: This was written as a response to F., although it does seem to fall within the purview of this weblog. As well as my own considerable laziness].
"Can a woman be a flaneur?" My initial response is to say no: the flaneur occupies a specific place and time when women didn’t really have the opportunity to be so; at any rate, that time has passed. There may be, of course, secret histories that I’m unaware of, as well as contemporary manifestations of the tendency -- or room to create a sort of contemporary flaneurisme feminin. Flaneurism, in the Parisian fashion, seems to me not so much about wandering per se, the getting from point b to e (Said St. Augustine: "The search says more than the discovery." Or Pavement, some years later: "Between here and there is better than here or there") -- but more of a collection of points. A distillation and extension of the flaneur's wandering tendency can be found in the Situationist notion of the dérive; there is a sense of negativity and political engagement there I find interesting.
But flaneurism, as such, is certainly Parisian and urban, and has generally been a male province. Virginia Woolf may be a possible model for the female flaneur. (Let me say “wanderer,” instead). She was a great walker, and her diaries are filled with details of walking the streets of London; the sense I get from her years at Rodmell, when London was an adventure, is that the freedom to roam the streets of the city was as exciting as the concerts, the tea shops, the Gardens, etc. "Walking, when it is writing" she noted. Wandering for its own sake; contriving, say, the excuse of buying a pencil just to go out and walk.
There’s a pastoral aspect to her peregrinations, too; tromping about the fields and woods in search of mushrooms, riding her bicycle. Cycling was a liberating experience, as it was for many women of the time; cycling seems to me to have been a less class and gender-determined form of liberation.
Kafka was a cyclist.
Motoring didn’t do much for Isadora Duncan.

But a flanueuse? Hmm. The flaneur/wanderer tradition, in English, finds sympathy in the notion of old Brits walking through parks and estates, the Lakes District, Italy... A solitary, male pursuit. Somehow I’m hesitant to use the word “masculine”--

-- unlike America (w/ the exception of NYC), an environment & culture where the senese of wandering & movement is grounded in westward expansion and the impulse subsumed by the automobile; thus, Kerouac’s triptrap, Kesey’s tripping, and road movies.

The Canadian artist GB Jones (of the proto-riot grrl band Fifth Column) wrote something once about how women should get big dogs, & of the empowerment this gave her of wandering the streets of the worst neighborhoods alone at night. So there are aspects of safety and independence that I, as a privileged (white, male) person, can't quite comment on. I think there's a sense of entitlement that seems bound up with the notion; easy for a Frenchman, 100 years or so ago, to be a flaneur: the city & world were his. The job, the private income, would be there. Wandering, it would seem, needs the precondition of being enfranchised; only then could one adopt the passive, drifting mode -- secure in the knowledge that the doors of any cafe were open to you, and your table at home would be set. Internationally, women at that time were busy trying to get the vote, getting published, etc. There are, of course, the exceptions: Satie and Baudelaire come to mind. But -- this could well be my own class biases --the mystique of the flaneur seems bound to a certain sense of ease.

To return to your original question, I return to Woolf as a possible model, mixing the urban and rural. (As did Robert Walser, following a more Germanic tradition of wandering, in his own eccentric way). And to the Situationists. Unrelated, but perhaps of interest is Agnes Varda’s movie Vagabond as a testament of refusal and negativity -- certainly more promising than some purple quill writer bemoaning the decline of the flaneur and the lack of good, anonymous late-night blowjobs in Paris.


Painted Corpses 

Perhaps too harsh in my critique of Surrealism?-- only a brief post, one that deserves more fleshing out? Perhaps to suggest Surrealism as a kind of corrective to the social realism then emerging as the official aesthetic of a Bolshevism on the decline; maybe a sort of Gallic reponse to the Germanic structuralism of Freud?
Not that I don't stand by my remarks; indeed, the principal cause of my irritation is with contemporary practitioners of the style. (Isn't that what high school was for?) I feel enough residual, may-want-to-consult-again interest in Nadja and The Last Nights of Paris (usual exceptional design & production values by Exact Change on the latter) to retain my copies; the rest of the lot have been sold or traded in. Breton and Eluard do make a wonderful suggestion in The Immaculate Conception -- that you should read the white spaces in between the lines in lieu of, or as the text itself; I'll give them credit on that. Reading Alfred Schnittke's notes to his violin concertos this morning, I find a remark that pretty well sums up my apprehension of Surrealist work in general; he refers to two "plush melodies" in the fourth concerto as painted corpses.


The Last Nights of Paris. And Suburbia. 

I find no sympathy with surrealism; indeed, I would go so far to say that I abhor it. I can think of no artistic practice that has less resonance to me -- and whether it's expressed in a post-Ashberian elastic flow of images, or in a manner more clearly derivative of Breton & Co. -- that contemporary "surrealism," divorced from any sort of politics, seems to tend to either a sort of detached prettiness or a diarrhetorical flow of images, roughly equivalent to channel surfing. And less culturally informative, at that.
Affect and effect blend in a monotonous blur of surface; fallow, hollow appearance with none of the enstrangement that even the briefest contact with the subconscious provides. It's not for nothing that surrealism has become one of the dominant languages of advertising; an escalator-like parade of images.

At a specific time, Surrealism may well have been necessary; a kind of continuation and extention of Dadaism and a reaction to the horrors of the war. Its attraction to, and sympathy with, communism (hardly requited) does seem necessary, for without a grounding in practical action, Surrealism provided nothing more than pseudo-intellectual window dressing for aesthetes; parlour-game provender for the leisure classes.

I may have to re-read Nadja again; I didn't hate Soupault's Last Nights of Paris -- but I must wonder: fundamentally, is there more than one "surrealist novel"?...
Ultimately, the question Surrealist-inflected writing invariably raises is "are you done yet?"

And the visual work: a sideshow of one-trick ponies. (The cinema of Bunuel excepted).

"Shall we be done with analogy?" asked Claude Royet-Journoud. By all means -- please, God: yes.



"Inside the cathedral I sat down for awhile, untied my shoe-laces, and, as I still remember with undiminished clarity, all of a sudden had no knowledge of where I was. Despite a great effort to account for the last few days, and how I had come to be in this place, I was unable even to determine whether I was in the land of the living or already in another place. Nor did this lapse in memory improve in the slightest after I climbed to the topmost gallery of the cathedral and from there, beset by recurring fits of vertigo, gazed out upon the dusky, hazy panorama of a city now altogether alien to me. Where the word "Milan" ought to have appeared in my mind there was nothing but a painful, inane refelex. A menacing reflection of the darkness spreading within me loomed up in the West where an immense bank of cloud covered half the sky and cast its shadow on the seemingly endless sea of houses. A stiff wind came up, and I had to brace myself so that I could look down to where the people were crossing the piazza, their bodies inclined forward at an odd angle, as though they were hastening to their doom -- a spectacle which brought back to me an epitaph I had seen years before on a tombstone in the Piedmont. And as I remembered the words Se il vento s'alza, Correte, Correte! Se il vento s'alza, non v'arrestate!, so I knew, in that instant, that the figures hurrying over the cobbles below were none other than the men and women of Milan.


The doorbell clanged, and there we were, standing in the small shop in which a case of long-case clocks, wall-mounted regulators, kitchen and living room clocks, alarm clocks, pocket and wrist watches were all ticking at once, just as if one clock on its own could not destroy enough time.


He had no answers, but believed the questions were quite sufficient for him.

-- W.G. Sebald, Vertigo


Travelling, and... 

The dislocaction of travelling; useless to bring a book along, there will always be too much in the way of distraction to pursue reading of any intensity. Bring crossword puzzles, short essays, perhaps a book one has read before and can skim with ease, revisiting parts at leisure. Of course, for short trips, I tend always to bring too much -- as if to find myself with the "wrong" book and be forced with the prospect of staring out a window would be such a bad thing? It's really a rather pleasant thing to do, especially if travelling by train; one tends to see the backs of buildings, and always encounter the stranger, marginal areas of cities.
Train stations have their romance, but I love the space of an airport: a locus of vectors, a fixed space for constant flux. Permutation and permeability.

Then one arrives at their destination, and experiences the making strange-ness of visiting, assuming the role of the visitor. Seeing small things almost as if for the first time. People drinking coffee. Walking down the street. Even window shopping. Recall Jack's speech at the beginning of The Designated Mourner, wondering at Howard and Judy's need to find beauty in rarefied forms: "Have you ever looked at your own hand?" he asks. Some years ago, waking up in a strange place on the other side of the country, I opened my eyes one morning to the sight of my own hand before my face. In a different light, I flexed it as if to prove that it truly was my own, watching the tendons stretch under the skin, the skin flex; felt the movement, opening and closing, so often taken for granted. This "thing" that was my hand.

This desire for estrangement is a human need; we seek to make the familiar strange, as if new again -- or numb ourselves with television, movies, sports, alcohol.
When I drank, I took a particular enjoyment of the space of a bar in the late afternoon, before the after-work crowds arrived; better yet, at some sort of out of the way place, the best being a hotel bar. The detachment and isolation to be found there, each person occupying a tangential space between arriving and departing, tasting oblivion. "Hotel Amnesia... where it is I can't remember."

It's a commonplace that one doesn't appreciate things until they're apart from them. An interesting aspect of travel is the psychological need and process of reconstructing / reconfiguring the new space, adding elements of the familiar -- in particular, the mental trick of peopling it with familiar faces -- the way one's eye catches a particular feature or gesture made by a stranger and connects that with a friend or acquaintance. It's a fleeting thing; generally the misrecognition is apprehended as the implausibility of person being there registers in one's conscious mind.
Interesting bit from recent trip; leaving the cafe I'd more or less adopted for my morning coffee routine, a guy said hello to me and was visibly thrown off by my fleeting acknowledgement and my failure to recognize him. "Sorry - I thought you were a friend of mine. You look a lot like him" he said. "Tell your friend I said hi."

Watched The Double Life of Veronique again the other night; the momentary recognition of one's double, a fleeting image from a bus window in a foreign city. The way Kieslowski's camera often plays with shadows and veils: faces reflected or screened off... & the protagonist's intuited sense of doubling that can't quite be expressed; a gnawing sadness and lack that can't be addressed.

The way music acts as a sort of bridge.

"On one occasion, in Gonzagagasse, I even thought I recognized the poet Dante, banished from his home town on pain of being burned at the stake. For some considerable time he walked a short distance ahead of me, with the familiar cowl on his head, distinctly taller than the people in the street, yet he passed by them unnoticed. When I walked faster in order to catch him up he went down Heinrichsgasse, but when I reached the corner he was nowhere to be seen. After one or two turns of this kind I began to sense in me a vague apprehension, which manifested itself in a feeling of vertigo. The outlines of which I tried to focus dissolved, and my thoughts disintegrated before I could fully grasp them."
-- W.G. Sebald, Vertigo



Have we reached the end of descriptive, or should I say writerly time? I'm downtown, en route to another city... I look at the buildings from a slightly different perspective -- I'm on a different street, a different stop from my usual; I think of Oppen's Of Being Numerous, there's the vague impulse to write -- but what? What can I say about this city, any city, a financial district empty on a weekend morning? Offices, stores, coffee shops are closed. Even the newspaper kiosks are empty. It occurs to me that we're in a time beyond description: what we are left with are lists and statistics, available to be interpreted in whatever way one chooses. Percentage rate increases, death tolls, quantities, consumption. Every figure produces a counter-figure.
It is, however, altogether quite a nice morning, quiet but for the sound of busses. 9:52am.



I love those books whose dust jackets have done their job, bearing the brunt of handling and shelfwear; and then someone has put the jacket in a protective cover, thus preserving the rubbings, the small tears; pure white showing through from the backing of the wrapper where the jacket has been chipped or worn away.
While travelling, I managed to find (finally!) a copy of Robert Pinget's Someone, dust jacket worn as described above. I put a cover on it last night. & the strange mix of impressions while handling it this morning; a book, as if new, which, upon cursory examination, reveals the evidence of its previous use.


In My Defense 

"In any book governed by the Fragment, truths and whims keep company throughout. How to sift them, to decide which is conviction, which caprice? One proposition, a momentary impulse, precedes or follows another, a life's companion raised to the dignity of an obsession... It is the reader who must assign the roles, since in more than one instance, the author himself hesitates to take sides. The epigrams constitute a sequence of perplexities -- in them we shall find interrogations but no answers. Moreover, what answer could there be? Had there been one, we should know it, to the great detriment of the enthusiast of stupor."
-- E.M. Cioran, epigraph to Anathemas and Admirations

Pact and Image 

I've been remiss in keeping up with this log, and with correspondence in general. I need to review my notes; work on intended and promised writing -- to write during the week, and try to update this on Sundays, at the very least. Dangerous, I know, to make such a promise, but perhaps the impetus I need.

I could no more limit myself to a single image than I could to one book; and though earlier I expressed a liking for Sean Scully's work, there's something about Gerhard Richter in general, and this painting in particular, that entrances me. Imagine it, if you will, as the signature image at the top of this page. As I wrote recently on a postcard of Reading:

"If the limits of language are the limits of my world, how, then, can I speak of this painting? I must refuse -- and refuse joyously."


Disavowal of poetry
The work moving more into a sort of - what?- reverie? A sorts of fiction. Having been categorized a "poet" & producing work closely enough resembling some of that genre, I've found myself distancing myself more from that word, its attendant preciosity, its limitations, to a refusal of it. Not a renunciation, but a separation; not to speak, nor write it -- as if by -- not doing so -- to let it restore its place.

"Why write these names so heavy, too charged with themselves, as charged with all the surcharge of language, over which they are charged to stand? God is thus a name, pure materiality, naming nothing, not even himself. Whence the perversion, magical, mystical, literal, of the name, the opacity of God to any idea of God. And still, like fear, like madness, it disappears, if only as a messenger of another language, of which such a disappearance could not take the place of a beginning. The "death of God" is perhaps only the help that historical language vainly brings to allow a word to fall outside of language without another announcing itself there: absolute slip."
-- Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not Beyond

Anew writing. But same words always same words.

Violation of space by naming it.

Maps drawn to different scales.

...the world the wordless



I've been away, literally & figuratively. I'm back from my trip; my desk no more orderly -- somewhat strange, even. And I have work to do: an upcoming reading needs some toning up, plus work to do here. I promised further notes on Godard; I'd like also to write on the pleasant sense of disorientation travel affords, and a long-hoped for reflection on Kieslowski.
All I will note for now is the fulfilled intention of taking a break, NOT writing. And not to affirm the notion of writer as victim of Tourette's Syndrome, but despite my stated desire to not write, I've managed a fair amount of notetaking, wch needs some gleaning and shaping for the much-neglected Cahiers.

Have a Bleedin' Guess 

Flew to San Francisco to visit a friend, relax a little, and see The Fall. How was the show? Have a bleedin' guess



Sky’s a collage of clouds. Some sun comes and goes, but there’s that feeling of a coolish rainy front coming in; I think the words slump, murk. As if I didn’t sleep well. Wch I didn’t.
There’s the theoretical interest in uncertainty, doubt, echoes. Sometimes a dull sense, gnaw gone tired, that it’s simply a day in wch little will get done. I think and take another step: God and the Inconceivable. Light from a distant star.

“-- There’s something


To the Barricades! 

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