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


Christmas gift to myself: Cixous' Manhattan: Letters from Prehistory. I went to the bookstore, not looking for anything in particular, just with a sort of blind trust that what I needed I might find, in the way one looks for a particular something in an index and finds a link to the astonishing phrase instead, by accident... This is the way I first discovered Cixous, this is the way almost all of her books have found me, or in reading them, something or someone (Bernhard, Bachmann, Tsvetaeva) coincides.
"Don't drive today with yesterday's map. Which means: don't write today with yesterday's memory."

"Today, April 6, 2001, I start a little notebook called Sudden Returns.
In it I shall note the totally unheralded upsurge of totally forgotten details. Details dramatic in their day but borne again by time never to reappear, without sequel in my story."

... former center of the universe.


"I don't know what happened," I told my mother last week, "any sense of the holidays just got away from me." "It's called getting old" she replied. And this morning, an unexpected call from an old friend; quickly dispensing with preliminaries, we talk freely. Not much "catching up"; some stuff needn't be said, or isn't worth dragging out. Whatever is said will be ok; any self-consciousness quickly falls away. We've been friends a really long time. Funny, I think, how we met in college and by our standards then - or the kids' now - we're middle-aged. What happened? Nothing, everything, time. It's a good reminder about how fickle memory can be; remembering different things about the same event, same house, same diner. Some things get torn down and yet they remain. Some sort of frame, or even just a tone remains. I pause and shrug my shoulders.
While the owl of Minerva may only fly at dusk, I think: it's dusk, after all. It may not even be an owl. Might be a pigeon. Or a wind-blown sheet of newspaper.


Je vous salue, Sarajevo 

Jean-Luc Godard's film from 1993; two minutes. (Two still images, text from JLG/JLG, and some Arvo Part music). Brief, note perfect, utterly wrenching.

[On Jean-Luc Godard /Anne-Marie Miéville: Four Short Films.]


"And so you renounce, slowly... You need time and patience. A sigh can become a novel."
-- Jean-Marie Straub, from Where Lies Your Hidden Smile?


On Ossos [Bones]:

"We're not in a studio, but even if there's a desire to be something of a documentary, it's nevertheless fiction that carries, that saves the film. Fiction is always a door that we want to open or not -- it's not a script. We've got to learn that a door is for coming and going."
-- Pedro Costa



Casa de lava

What happened. No one knows
why he fell. They say
he was sad.

anonymous. a woman's letter


-- the dream of a language all to ourselves.

an empty envelope on the table.


[Impossible, here, to represent the oddly-kiltered spacing and enjambment (accidental?) of lines written blind in the dark of the cinema].


on Pedro Costa's later working methods:

"shooting a scene over three months, and then shooting another, then going back to the first scene again, letting time sink in.


O Sangre

Quiet now.
It will never happen.
Do you remember?

You hardly knew me.
We can't leave a trace.


two ghostly figures 

My building went non-smoking over a year ago; it becomes a furtive act, this business of slipping out the back door onto the fire escape in the mornings, or late at night. There's another smoker in the building; I've seen the ashtray go from empty to brimming in the space of a day or two -- small signs, but never a physical presence. This spring / early summer, I finally met my fellow smoker; we've both been in this small building for over five years, and had never seen each other until then. We chatted amiably, and I jokingly said "See you in another five years." I ran into her again that very evening on the street. Months pass by; a couple of weeks ago, we find each other again and talk for a bit. Her parting words: "We're like ghosts, you and I."


I often pass a drugstore on a regular route home. When closed after dark, there's a spotlight on outside the entrance, and with the interior of the store dimmed, one can make out a security monitor inside that's focused on the exit, with the blank frames of the doors and a little of the street visible beyond. As I pass, through some freak reflection -- and only for a second and out of the corner of my eye, I can see myself in the monitor -- though I'm moving in the opposite direction, and in so doing, I pass an image of myself.


La double figure 

This work, in its discontinuity, proceeds by means of two movements: the straight line (advance, increase, insistence of an idea, a position, a preference, an image) and the zigzag (reversal, contradiction, reactive energy, denial contrariety, the movement of a Z, the letter of deviance).

-- Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes

L'amour, la folie 

"Order of the day, from Bonaparte, First Consul, to his guard:
'Grenadier Gobain has committed suicide for love; moreover he was a very fine soldier. This is the second event of this kind which has occurred within the corps in a month. The First Consul orders the guard to be notified: that a soldier must conquer the pain and melancholy of his passions; that there is much true courage in suffering steadfastly the pangs of the soul as in standing fast under the fire of a battery...'
From what language, one wonders, did these lovesick, melancholy grenadiers draw their passion (scarcely in accord with the image of their class and profession)? What books had they read -- or what stories been told? Perspicacious of Bonaparte, identifying love with a battle, not -- banally -- because two partners confront one another, but because, cutting as rifle fire, the erotic explosion provokes bewilderment and fear: crisis, revulsion of the body, madness: a man who is in love in the romantic manner knows the experience of madness. Now, to such a madman, no modern word is given today, and it is ultimately for this reason that he feels himself to be mad: no language to usurp -- except a very old one.

Anguish, wound, distress or jubilation: the body, from head to toe, overwhelmed, submerged by Nature, and all this nonetheless: as if I were borrowing a quotation. In the sentiment of love, in the erotic madness, if I would speak, I rediscover: Book, Doxa, Stupidity. Entanglement of language and the body: which begins?

-- Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes



I’ve been rather idly toying with thoughts on Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, opera, and Róisín Murphy; I suppose the common thread is emotional destitution.
Notes as follows. No promises.

A Pedro Costa series is coming to town, wch I’m interested in, esp. his film about Straub/Huillet, who I’ve read a great deal about and whose works are aparently unobtainable on video or DVD. Any director who supposedly "our-Bressons Bresson" more than piques my interest; also, Jacques Rivette’s blurbed as saying of Ossos: "I think it's magnificent, I think that Costa is genuinely great. It's beautiful and strong. Even if I had a hard time understanding the characters' relationships with one another. Like with Casa de lava (1994), new enigmas reveal themselves with each new viewing." I check back to a Rivette “interview” in Senses of Cinema -- basically a list of movies and his opinions, and I reflect thatI have a sort of absolute trust in Rivette: no film of his has let me down and, even if flawed, there’s something that catches or hooks me. Remains with me. (It’s always seems to me a great testament to a work if it sends you further than you would normally, or comfortably go: L’amour fou had me reading Racine. Gang of Four kept me going). It’s interesting to think that, some nine months after seeing Duelle, wch I didn’t think was one of his stronger films, that parts of it came back to me, vividly reasserting themselves. Part mood, part a series of images; not meaning to take notes, I took notes - wch, in themselves, constitute a sort of poem.
Rivette on Rohmer: "...I prefer the Rohmer films where he goes deep into emotional destitution, where it becomes the crux of the mise en scène, as in Summer, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediathèque and in a film that I'd rank even higher, Rendez-vous in Paris ... If I had to choose a key Rohmer film that summarized everything in his oeuvre, it would be The Aviator's Wife (1980). In that film, you get all the science and the eminently ethical perversity of the Moral Tales and the rest of the Comedies and Proverbs, only with moments of infinite grace. It's a film of absolute grace."
“You like milder things” remarked a friend in response to my enthusiasms for Eric Rohmer. I won’t respond to the mildness, but I will respond to Rohmer... Feeling a
little bored, slightly stale and mildly depressed, prompted by Rivette’s reminder, I revisited Full Moon in Paris. Rohmer is canny and deceptive in his frankness; while his “lightness” and the simplicity of his films are often commented on, there are few filmmakers that really transmit the loneliness of heartbreak, of disappoinment, like he does. The moon passes into the cold light of dawn. Much of the effect is in his restraint. More often than not, even in the comedies, his tone is bittersweet.

This retrospective move was precipitated by some recent listening to Róisín Murphy, the song "Overpowered" in particular. It starts slow, sort of creeps up; moves into the pace of a brisk walk. The lyrics begin, “When I think that I’m over you / I’m overpowered... It's long overdue /I'm overpowered.” It strikes me as expressing an odd sentiment, I think - so many songs are written from the point of view of immediate heartbreak, or reeling from a loss; the tone tends to be anguished, angry, or defiant - present tense, immediate as the singing. “Overpowered” seems to offer a different sensibility: a stunned, somewhat detached, after after-the-fact realization of being over someone; what grabs me is the sense of distance involved. In times of emotional duress, we often tell ourselves “this feeling will pass” and (one hopes!) will later wonder “how could I ever have felt that way?” -- but this sentiment of a slightly flattened affect, bereft of nostalgia, struck an odd and rather moving note. I don't generally pay much attention to song lyrics, and I must admit that it’s unfair to isolate a line and deny the ambiguity of the rest of the song, even as the isolated line reads ambiguously when taken out of context. But this caught me. And that, I suppose, it what music can do: this feeling isn't limited to music, but in song and film it tends to be more immediate. At any rate, the subtext here is simple: this is a dance/ disco record: it doesn’t quite fit my self-image (another friend would say "you don't really like it -- you like the idea of liking it [they are wrong]), but I like it, and I feel I need to justify my enjoyment in some way. I like her voice quite a bit -- it seems different on this disc, a bit more open... There's obviously an element of infatuation with her; it’s simple, stupid, and no doubt will fail to last into the new year. But for now it’s something like that slippery facsimile of happiness that pop music generally promises to afford.

I’m indebted to k-punk’s article on Murphy, wch drew me to her music, and to Sit Down Man, You're A Bloody Tragedy's further comments. While my attraction, or point here, is in the recognition of an expression of emotional distance and disconnection in one particular song, they elucidate on the attractions of glam and recognize the distance between image and reality; what makes the Overpowered video so great is this importation of RM’s costumed stage presence into real life (she addresses costuming and performance here [I warn you, it's long; background listening only]:

-- I particularly like her remark that to NOT perform in costume would be more dishonest than to do so in a t-shirt and jeans; representing herself in that manner would be to present more of a false persona onstage, though RM’s perfectly capable and commfortable, it seems, sitting in a cafe and chatting like a normal person. As Hatherley writes, "This tension between the seamless fantasy and the seamy reality isn't a concession to mundanism, it's something totally key to glam from the start: being thoroughly inappropriate, a working-class pursuit that can become a bit tedious when taken out of it." (Quite: If there’s no disjunction between stage and reality, you’re what -- Cher?)
Videos, as a rule, tend to have some sloppy to extravagant images serving as a sales pitch for a song / disc. One could make an argument that the “Overpowered” video works as a form of film in that instead of merely presenting a song, it alters the song's sound profile and presentation: while she's onstage, it plays as recorded; when Róisín (we’re on a first-name basis now) goes backstage, the sound of a door slamming enters the mix and the music drops in level, leaving the transitional area of offfstage and entering the "real" world, the song returns to its mormal level. No need to go on. It's wonderful.

Another note on distance, here: the above-mentioned video either makes more sense to a generation that wanders the world in a semi-trance, earbuds welded into their heads, every social transaction mediated by a sound-stream of their own consumer choice and identification, or it’s simply subsumed by the stream without further processing. I don’t care for that head-phone head-space, and while as I don’t listen to lyrics much, neither do I frequent nightclubs -- so obviously quite a bit of the glam /stage / performance thing is lost on me. I tend to apprehend music as pure sound, more than anything else. I've been to the opera but rarely, wch isn’t to say I don’t love it, just that I listen to it and am attracted to it as a big mess of sound, rather than as staged drama plus music.


It’s impossible for me to begin some notes with the phrase “emotional destitution” in the first paragraph, write about music and opera, and not bring up Maria Callas. Ah. Sigh. Few voices can break me so utterly, (and if Callas is an obvious name, so’s Lucinda Williams, or Emmylou. And Cecilia Bartoli's voice possesses a compelling clarity. Dawn Upshaw, too). But the days of the opera diva seem to be gone, consigned to the archive. [Oh!-- there could be, we've been told - Nathalie Dessay?! [See below]

Callas is kind of a proto-type, or ur-Glam figure: larger than life, she rewrote herself through work and will; born Maria Anna Cecilia Kalegeropoulos, she changed her name, lost a great deal of weight, created her image, dumped her first husband and mentor, transforming herself -- made herself "Callas" -- and burned herself out at a notoriously young age. I have a recording of an aria from Delibes’ Lakmé where her voice cracks in a truly terrible way: it’s like a kick in the chest. In the end, voice gone, left alone, she ended up secluded, heartbroken, dying alone at the age of 53. Such is the myth. Mythology aside, there is something so startling about her voice, that wonderful, flawed voice -- that simply grabs me. It touches, pierces some spot between my spine and sternum. From the beginning of my opera-listening life, there was little question that she was the one. As in love, when it comes to a diva there is infatuation and a question of choice, but for whatever reason I chose Callas. (I’m no hardcore fan, and while I have some musical education and a fairly adequate ear, if go into a coffee shop or restaurant and they’re playing opera, I can pretty much nail Callas' voice in two seconds).

I just took Wayne Koestenbaum’s The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire (New York: Poseidon Press, 1993) off the shelf for the first time in years. It’s a wonderful book; few writers manage to adequately transmit that sense of immediacy, absorption & transfixion that music brings to us -like a doubling of, or stab in the heart. A good chapter on “The Callas Cult” and a nice fannish section on the necessity of choosing a diva. I’ll close this unholy mess of a post with a favorite passage:

“Opera has the power to warn you that you have wasted your life. You haven;t acted on your desires. You’ve suffered a stunted, vicarious existence. You’ve silnced your passions. The volume, height, depth, lushness, and excess of operatic utterance reveal, by contrast, how small your gestures have been until now, how impoverished your physicality; you have used only a fraction of your bodily endowment, and your throat is closed.”

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?