Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Peter Handke, 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature

Today, Peter Handke is being awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature. Handke is probably my favorite living writer, and people sometimes ask what I like about his work, and to recommend some of his books. This latter part is always difficult for me, because no single work really represents what I appreciate about him as a writer. I like Handke the writer better than any of his individual works. In fact, Handke seems to me a strange example of a great writer whose greatness lies not in his works, but in his writing practice. Most writers become great by producing monumental works which become pillars of a canon; but most of my favorite of Handke’s books do not have this masterwork character. And this is part of what I appreciate about him. Great works of fiction generally present hermetic worlds with epic scope that hold the imagination in their grasp; Handke’s writing resists this, instead offering a flow of language that constantly compels the reader to look up from the lines on the page, away from the book, and out at the world.

For me, what is most important about Handke’s work is his manner of looking and his method of reflecting that looking in his writing, which always represents a distinct perceptive method, pausing at what more grandiose minds gloss over, showing affection for the idiosyncratic detail, exhibiting a pure talent for identifying fleeting moments of beauty, grace, and justice. This comes from looking, taking the time to look, being open to minor events and their humble yet profound gravity.

There is a transcendent thread through all of his writing that shape-shifts with his polyvalent positioning towards language. Sometime this leads him to poetic abstraction, which in German has an aural elegance that radiates mere suggestions of ideas. This subtlety sometimes grates; it gets boring, or you have no idea what he’s trying to say; but sometimes you get glimpses. Alternately, he has a precise descriptive mode that I count among the most directly evocative in world literature; a photographic clarity with sensual depth, economical without ever veering into the cloying figurative description of other attempts at imagism. Between these two poles, his writing attempts to capture something of individual experience, facing the world with five senses: how it feels to think in a body, how the natural world reflects within the psyche, how the subject discovers and creates truth and meaning in what it sees. Always the specter of language hovers above this, qualifying and enabling any and every attempt at communication.

It is endlessly frustrating and deeply saddening to me that the entire media response to this award has been focused not on his writing, but on a handful of statements made about Yugoslavia. From his earliest days, Handke has resisted direct political declaration, designating a different, less partisan, more observational role for literature; his great failure was not seeing that most people are far too simple to recognize this, and will steamroll literary nuance and replace it with polemic. The imbeciles and the cynical ideologues that try to delegitimize Handke’s win with slanderous and willfully uncomprehending attacks (who understand nothing of Handke or of literature, whose opinions are straight out of the Dictionnaire des idées reçues) may eventually, I can only hope, prove his point (one legible in his entire oeuvre, including his statements on Yugoslavia): that language, the writer’s tool, is conscripted by various social actors—journalists, politicians, generals, salesmen—not to represent or reflect any kind of individual or shared reality, but rather to violently and forcefully contort symbolic elements into a tawdry facsimile used to prop up a certain hegemonic structure, and that literature—at its very best—can save language (if not over a whole work, then at least in a short passage or a few luminous lines) from this ignoble fate.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Private Moments

Reading from Harry Mathews’s The Journalist: “Went to the park on my way home, to the little clearing, empty as usual, already assembling in the dust its carpet of curled leaves . . .” I get a quick euphoric rush, which accompanies the realization that, no matter what, I will always have these private moments—with culture, with the world. It doesn’t matter what I do to make a living. In fact, it would be better if what I do for a living had nothing to do with these sacred, private moments. These private moments with music, with books, with the sun.


Thoreau’s Journal, 1851:
“There is a certain fertile sadness which I would not avoid but rather earnestly seek—It is positively joyful to me—It saves my life from being trivial.”

At the long wooden table before the tall windows. I had been marveling at the daytime stability I was feeling. The sun illuminated a cloudy sky, the diffused light covered my face. The anxieties of the previous night were unreal, like part of a dream. I felt invincible in the daylight, stoic.

Then came the terrible news about someone I know.
My immediate impulse: a desire to retreat with my wife to a private life. A place where I would feel the same stoic stability of the cool daylight. This would involve leaving behind the fantasy of happiness: the belief that the world is a fine place to live. (“There is no bliss upon this world / there’s peace and freedom though”)

This turn in thinking built off from another recent tendency of thought, regarding my dissatisfaction with cultural discourses—How culture is built around the fundamental act of listening to and judging the different ways people misrepresent the state of things. Reading an article, or listening to a radio host speak about a certain type of person: at first I see their representation as accurate, but then I begin to see how cynical and disrespectful it is, and how it reflects an ethical perspective that I am extremely uncomfortable with. I look to these discourses for guidance, but all they offer me is a warped mirror, replacing my own private knowledge with their false picture of the world.

I am just at the beginning of thinking the thought that art is beautiful for the impartiality of its discourse (though not all art stays true to this pact of impartiality).


“Artistic motivation” in practice:
[D]uring the filming of Equinox Flower, Ozu was asked why he used almost no tracks and pans. He replied: 
“It is not congenial to me. As my principle of life, I follow the general fashion in ordinary matters, and subject myself to the moral law in serious matters, and in respect of arts I follow myself.” 

Corinthians: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.


Handke talks about the use of the Homeric simile in John Cowper Powys. What about in Chandler?: “I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”

Eisenstein: “Sexuality is the cheapest path to ecstasy.”

PH notes, in Homer the dead know nothing about the living.


Sitting outside as the sun goes down, reading an essay in a purloined Harper’s by John Crowley about animals, death, and his own non-fear of death. I have been haunted by death of late, and I am comforted by his words—his agreement with Wittgenstein that his death “ends the world,” and his serenity with this. Then inside, not three minutes later, almost at random, I pick up my paperback of Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms from the clutter on the table and read the first short fragment I come across, which is this one:
“Fundamentally it is only our own basic thoughts that possess truth and life, for only these do we really understand through and through. The thoughts of another that we have read are crumbs from another’s table, the cast-off clothes of an unfamiliar guest.”
Crumbs from John Crowley’s table—can that kill my fear? Can it change the way I think?
Which then takes me all the way back to something I noted in this same text document, almost three years earlier:
When I read Handke speak of his fear of death (or anyone else for that matter), my own fear of death seems an impossible thing. My excitement at reading Handke’s account relates to the realization that I am not alone in my own mortal thoughts. Therefore, if Handke got through it, I’ll be OK myself. How the recognition of one’s deepest thoughts in another leads to their annihilation, or at least their temporary unreality.

Eternal recurrence of particular paths of thought. A multitude of variations of the same set of private moments. These are all that is true, all that I understand, "through and through."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rue Saint-Martin

The man walks into the cafe, which is empty except for a gray-haired customer at the corner of the bar, sitting in the sun which is streaming in from the street-side window, and myself, sitting at a table reading with an empty coffee cup in front of me. Naturally, the barman is standing behind the bar. The man walks up to the bar and thinks for a moment before ordering a Leffe. Instead of standing still at the bar, next to his drink, he leaves his drink on the bar, and walks around the open space of the empty cafe. He returns to the bar to drink some of his beer, leans against the bar with his arms outstretched, tapping on the zinc counter with his fingers, and then leaves the bar again, pacing around the cafe. From my perspective this man has succeeded in setting himself apart from the gray-haired customer, who sits docilely at the bar with his coffee, not moving, not looking like moving. Before the entrance of the man, the gray-haired customer had made banter with the barman, speaking of current events, and awkwardly making a bad joke that the barman did not even acknowledge. Now, this customer is silent. The standing man has claimed the calm space of the cafe as his own. Immediately, the air of peace is lost. It has become a space of hierarchies. I put my reading away, and go stand next to the man as he drinks some more of his beer at the bar. I feel as though I need to make a show of being unimpressed by his presence. I hand the barman a 2-euro coin and, without looking at either the man at the bar or the gray-haired customer, I say goodbye and exit to the sunny street.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Harry Mathews' "20 Lines a Day"

“When you go to piss in the bathroom with people within possible earshot (and sometimes with no people around at all), you direct your jet at the edge of the pool of water in the toilet bowl so as to reduce the noise you make. (Long ago you observed that peeing on the enamel of the bowl splashed a spray over its edges—something even less nice than making a watery racket.) You are astonished when other men disappear into the bathroom and immediately produce the almost roaring sound of drilled water that you so anxiously avoid, pissing happily, or at least with no audible sign of hesitation, straight into the center of the pool, its deepest and so loudest point. You notice that your astonishment contains no trace of disapproval. You not only take no offense at the undisguised noise you hear, you even feel a certain admiration and respect for its instigator, like those a timid little boy feels for a confident grown-up. Perhaps your admiration is centered on this man’s so surely knowing that his behavior has no relevance to people’s opinion of him—he knows that no one cares whether he is pissing or not, openly or not, because everybody does it, and does it in the knowledge that they are practicing a universal act. This knowledge has somehow escaped you. What exactly have you imagined in its place?”
[I love this almost imbecilic prose mode that Mathews gets into in this book. An earnest/honest, observational/confessional mode of writing that lacks any narrative panache, but is somehow very effective. I never understand why people always call Mathews a "great prose stylist"—often the basic character of his prose is determined by its total lack of style, as with this excerpt here.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A review of the Michael Werner exhibition at the Musée d'art moderne

La Collection Michael Werner
Musée d’art moderne, Paris
October 5, 2012 - March 3, 2013

It was a Sunday when I saw this exhibition. I prepared a good meal at home, with salmon, Brussels sprouts and potato purée. We drank two-thirds of a bottle of burgundy, and also split a craquant au chocolat. It was her birthday.

We descended from our apartment, and found that outside it was a relatively balmy 10 degrees centigrade. The sun peeked out between the clouds, and the pavement was wet. I felt fine. We walked to the Strasbourg–Saint-Denis station, where we took the 9 train and got out at Iéna. Exiting onto the street, we followed the downward pitch of the Avenue du President Wilson and arrived at the entrance to the museum in under a minute. Across the avenue I saw the Square Brignole Galliera: empty, gray, and brooding.

Once inside the building, we walked through a metal detector. I bought a ticket for nine euros, while hers cost just seven. In order to reach the exhibition we had to pass through the museum’s permanent collection, free and open to the public, packed with kitschy Delaunays. At the entrance to the exhibition, a woman tore our tickets in half, and we each took programs from a receptacle suited for the purpose. We entered a dark octagonal room in which were arranged some bronze sculptures. I couldn’t bring myself to care, and passed up a few stairs into the first proper room, wondering if I still agreed with Baudelaire, that sculpture is the most boring of the visual arts.

Gaston Chaissac,
"Grande porte de bois peint" (1953)
The first proper room featured grayish ink depictions of naked women by Jean Fautrier. I admired the quality of line in these figure drawings, and the way it would shift from thin to thick as it followed the sensual curves of the woman’s thighs. I don’t remember anything about the Francis Gruber works that followed that, except that they were also fairly dark.

The darkness of the previous two artists ill-prepared me for the next room, and I felt a distinct shock when I found myself facing the garish colors of Gaston Chaissac. As if my eyes were adjusting to the color, I gradually liked each painting more and more as I looked at them. There was a brownish one whose colors seemed “just right.” I finished my time in this room by writing Chaissac’s name on my program, so that I would remember it (it took me a few rooms to realize that it would be easier to just circle the name where it is printed in the program). I also noted the years of the two paintings I liked best: 1958-9 and 1943-4.

Derain followed in the next room: the largest room yet. at the center were arranged several dozen heads of bronze, with round, beady eyes, thick, flat lips, whimsical expressions. I remember thinking to myself, “these are pretty funny.” I saw two paintings that bothered me, and then I began to like the rest of the paintings that I saw. Derain has a special touch. Like Robert Delaunay he seems to have been unable to formulate his own style, and resorted to borrowing from others over the course of his career; but whereas Delaunay’s borrowing results mostly in kitsch, Derain usually succeeds in creating something worthwhile despite its derivativeness. He’s not a genius, but he’s much smarter, and probably funnier than Delaunay: I left the room with a heart warmed by the admiration I was feeling just then for André Derain.

The next room was the worst of all the rooms, featuring late paintings of Picabia. The program insists that Picabia “slaughtered the second sacred cow of the art world: style,” and indeed Picabia’s later paintings lack all semblance of style. Yet nothing is revealed by them in their stylelessness; one looks at them and one sees nothing worth looking at. I laughed aloud reading the program mention “his so-called bad paintings”: so-called bad paintings, or just simply bad paintings? Bad, bad paintings that no one needs to try to admire.

Louis Eilshemius, "Nymph with Pink Scarf" (1914)
After that, one of the shining moments of the exhibition: a wall of small scenes painted by Louis Eilshemius. Like pompier paintings attempted by a child, these works exude a trembling sentimentalism, earnest and sad, a breath of fresh air after Picabia’s painting-hell. Intimate pastoral clearings, dotted with blurry nudes. The program mentioned Duchamp’s advocacy of Eilshemius at the 1917 “Independents Exhibition” in New York (I think Marjorie Perloff may have mentioned him in her talk on Duchamp). This made total sense to me, and also made me think that I, too, would advocate for Eilshemius whenever I had the chance. This room alone made the visit worthwhile.

I passed through the following rooms with my eyes open. Grotesque three-dimensional paintings from Réquichot, three different artists (Jacques de la Villeglé, Raymond Hains, Mimmo Rotella) working with torn film posters and advertisements. It’s no coincidence that all three were doing the same thing independently: it’s a pretty obvious idea, one had by people everyday in the subway. Otto Dix and Günter Brus followed—seeming a bit exaggerated after Eilshemius, to say the least!—then Lucio Fontana, whose works were cruelly positioned in a curving hallway, making it all too easy to pass them quickly. The next large room featured great works by Beuys: East German paper used for wrapping foodstuffs, brown and flat with strange stamped motifs. Beuys’ ironic commentary on top. It just works: Beuys works and he always does, somehow. These pieces were unfortunately accompanied by some dull, dreary nineties’ conceptual kitsch from James Lee Byars. Not even worth a passing glance.

After that, a big room with big Baselitz paintings. All upside down, and all worth admiring. And after that, another big positive: a series of graphite drawings from Eugen Schönebeck, depicting Stalin, Mao, Mayakovsky, and more. Very great, making me circle his name enthusiastically in the exhibition program. The program speaks of manifestos written in the sixties against the German art establishment by Baselitz and Schönebeck. Where can I read them? Schröder-Sonnenstern also very great, and where else would you see these sick drawings? Höckelmann kind of a let down after this.

Henri Michaux, "Mouvements" (1951)
But this was succeeded by another shining moment: a half room of quiet drawings of Henri Michaux. Unfortunately, as we began to look at them we were followed into the room by two Russian bimbos passing in front of each drawing at a steady pace—slow, but never stopping—speaking very loudly. Their voices echoed through the room, destroying any attempt at admiring Michaux’s simple black forms on pale yellow. We just had to stop and wait, staring at the ceiling until these awful women passed on. These simple drawings are so effective. Unequivocally human forms represented by black lines and blots, spread across the tan paper. Delicate pastel and gouache on black paper. Sharp colors, the merest hint of figures. A devotional procession in reddish-orange on black, plodding towards an electric blue ladder climbing upwards to the right. Then on the facing wall, Michaux’s mescaline drawings. I tried to imagine him on mescaline, hunched over his desk, squinting as his white-knuckled hands gripped his pen and delicately described the forms that occupied his mind. Evocative work, earnest work, simple and alien. These made me think of a time in college when I drew a picture of my friend when we had both taken acid. My first attempt at drawing had failed disastrously: I could barely move my hand, and ended up with a minuscule cartoon of a planetary orb and a hot dog. I didn’t even know what I was doing. Somehow I relaxed, and drew from nature, effortlessly recording the smooth curve of my friend’s bald head, the spiky stubble of his beard and mustache. When he saw the drawing he told me, “you’ve captured something photographic.”

Marcel Broodthaers, from "Les très riches
heures du Duc de Berry" (1974-5)
The next room featured great and funny work by Jörg Immendorff. The program spoke highly of his “LIDL actions.” We admired his “Self-portrait of the Artist in his Studio”, which depicts himself, in his studio, painting a picture of striking factory workers. Then came Lehmbruck lithographs and sculptures, which passed me by. Lüpertz followed, with a grotesque sculpture of Mozart as a female bodybuilder. Some of his paintings were quite nice, and I appreciated his attempt to make sculptures of the forms described in his paintings.

Penck was strange, and I probably should have given him more attention—at least enough to find out how this artist would switch his primary source of inspiration, as the program noted, from scientific positivism to free jazz. I was distracted from his curving room by the intimate side room devoted to Broodthaers. Great, great works collected there. Conceptual but unpretentious. The saving grace of all intellectual art is a sense of humor. Very funny work, also mysterious. Would have liked to save it for later, contemplate it during the train ride home.

Then Leroy, Polke, Toroni (minimalism is alright, but Dia:Beacon makes too big a deal about it!). Polke succeeds with winning forms. He wins these late rooms. Van Vliet better than expected, but hard to think of him as anything other than an amateur (that’s bad, I know!). Freundlich I barely recall, and Kirkeby paints his own shapes over readymade canvases. I remember thinking, “that’s a pretty good idea,” and then almost immediately thinking, “no it’s not!”

Raymond Queneau, "Main et coquillage" (c. 1925)
Schmit and Queneau in the little corner before the gift shop/exit. (Tip: you can see these for free from the staircase leading down to the permanent collection, just bring binoculars!) Schmit was interesting, but the drawings were too stiff. More of a philosopher, a comedian, a writer. I would read his novel. Queneau is of course more of a writer, whose novels I’ve read, but these little paintings are so good. His hand in front of a bottle, various objects, gouache polaroids. Mundane and magnificent. A final shining moment. Had to settle for mental postcards.

As we left we saw a long line of fashionable fools waiting to enter the Palais de Tokyo (whereas the Werner exhibit had been practically empty). One young man wore skintight jeans, a peacoat, Harry Potter glasses, Hitler Youth buzz-cut on the sides, smoothed back pompadour on top, and a massive lumberjack beard, as if he didn’t want to take any chance of anyone ever thinking he might not be a hipster. Skip the contemporary kitsch parade and see the Michael Werner show, you fools!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recent notes

“Leerheit mit Munterkeit” — attempted un-translation of x quoting Müller quoting Brecht… His comments that the Giacometti room at the Pompidou was a “temple of deep-breathing” where one could escape from the “emptiness with alacrity” of bourgeois society.

"What counts is the example, death means nothing."
"Optimismus ist nur ein Mangel an Information"

Brecht’s definition of the special nature of the book-- “Die geheiligte Ware Buch”, a sacred commodity
Beckett quoted by Unseld:”I have the feeling that there is nothing to express, nothing with which one could express it. No force of expression either, no desire to express anything along with the obligation to express it.”

Where in the world does wisdom reign over vanity?
How is it possible that music and movies have become so, so bad?

Ponge: Monde muet, ma seule patrie. Silent world, my only fatherland.

“In die Natur hinauszugehen ist das Höchste.”

K. Bayer:
“Meine Damen und Herren, verehrte Anwesende, lieber Herr Präsident.
Rauchen verboten.”

Kolleritsch’s dissertation: “Eigentlichkeit und Uneigentlichkeit in der Philosophie Martin Heideggers”

John Ford: “He always had music played on the set and would routinely break for tea (Earl Grey) at mid-afternoon every day during filming. He discouraged chatter and disliked bad language on set; its use—especially in front of a woman—would typically result in the offender being thrown off the production. He rarely drank during the making of a film, but when a production wrapped he would often lock himself in his study, wrapped only in a sheet, and go on a solitary drinking binge for several days, followed by routine contrition and a vow never to drink again.”

“One famous event, witnessed by Ford's friend actor Frank Baker, strikingly illustrates the tension between the public persona and the private man. During the Depression, Ford—by then a very wealthy man—was accosted outside his office by a former Universal actor who was destitute and needed $200 for an operation for his wife. As the man related his misfortunes, Ford appeared to become enraged and then, to the horror of onlookers, he launched himself at the man, knocked him to the floor and shouted "How dare you come here like this? Who do think you are to talk to me this way?" before storming out of the room. However, as the shaken old man left the building, Frank Baker saw Ford's business manager Fred Totman meet him at the door, where he handed the man a cheque for $1,000 and instructed Ford's chauffeur to drive him home. There, an ambulance was waiting to take the man's wife to the hospital where a specialist, flown in from San Francisco at Ford's expense, performed the operation. Some time later, Ford purchased a house for the couple and pensioned them for life. When Baker related the story to Francis Ford, he declared it the key to his brother's personality.”

O. Wiener:
"die welt ein sirup aus der sprache unsrer väter"

Proust: “I do my intellectual work within myself, and once with other people, it's more or less irrelevant to me that they're intelligent, as long as they are kind, sincere, etc."

Debord, Panegyrique:  “It is understood that all this has left me very little time for writing, and that is exactly as it should be: writing should remain a rare thing, since one must have drunk for a long time before finding excellence.”
“‘Beautiful as the trembling of the hands in alcoholism,’ said Lautréamont. There are mornings that are stirring but difficult.”

Maybe now that I’m thirty everyone will finally leave me the hell alone.
Progression: from demand for true name, to realization that every name is false.
Being successful means being able to not give a damn what anyone else thinks about you.
"Oh, the fault’s in me, yes."

from Pierre Étaix, Le Soupirant (1962)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Solitude 24

I've started a new blog dedicated to architectural photography, co-edited with Julien Konne. Our program is difficult to describe precisely: very generally, we present our own photos of modern buildings, architectural details, and urban spaces that we find notable, collected on our travels in Europe and elsewhere. The architecture of Paris and the Parisian banlieue feature prominently.
Please see for yourself here: http://solitude-24.blogspot.fr/

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Additional liner notes for the Happy Stirrup 2LP reissue on New Images


Much earlier, somewhat younger, getting through the afternoon.
    Ay tero. Trono, tero ko. There is a need followed by a search for satisfaction. Ruby port, tero. I am wary. Towers of cans, nai tero. Gift of necklace, getting through the afternoon, ni kai dai lap gas. Wary of things I am confronted with. Happy just to arrive at nighttime. [A makeshift wooden table, a sleeping bag on a tatami mat, a bottle of whiskey. Sunday in Philadelphia.]
    INNER ORGANIZING AGAINST: Khayam. Getting ready for vitriolic expulsion. Seething through piercing glimmers. A hatred so ecstatic as if rooted in love. Searing disgust, madhya, a cleanse through fire. Against (above all) against opposition. An offensive defense: a hating love. DARBARI, the imaginary: a cold, vast stretching. A stretching pavement. A sickly brown evening turning to ill violet night. Mirrored by the mind, the odious world barely glimmers, ringing dull and lifeless. The mind dies and is instantly reborn inside; ghosts of the real await. [A relief to be rid of such—]
    A later time, another try: Anlehnung. (Who was there? Peter Howell, Demetrio Stratos, Tony Williams, Tommy Peltier.)

A year passes and improves. In New York, attempting to map my position. Open slate, re-myth, joining, leaving, sinking, rising, aging... Pechorin, Onegin, then Del Dongo and Edelweiss. Proust was always there.
    Reflecting on my PAST: Pater Peaks (Mt. Adams to be exact)—1:40, not 11:40 (Field of quartz). Throwing dream-money at a cabbie’s flecked face. European conversion rate. Caught between TWO MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE THINGS, never satisfied with only one.
    PRESENT: House of House of House of House of House of House of
 “How is lack of judgment a lie? Impediment on road towards authenticity. Why make one unit from two? When sense is subdued and loneliness banished... as in friendship also, a relief when solitude is returned. A verbal impasse of thought or simply a distraction from ephemeral beauty? — Buildings as sun sets.” [Thankful to be rid of such—]
    FUTURE: Sympathetic slounging / Future movement: what is lost is often found: Coal box calm-downs: Seeing winter in another continent for the first time. Essaouira. [The last of which never happened. My coal oven was, however, a good companion.]
    Weeks go by, as they do. They do.

June: HIDING OUT/OVERFULL OF SNUGNESS. Happiness is... When M S J PR Q Puer San Jao uh… MMM. EUDAEMONIA. M. Louis de Saint-Just dans un avion. ("Even up there his lapidary utterances, his icy prowess at the podium remained intact") (i.e. worthy of being carved in stone) [In a West Village cafe, which did not satisfy. They never did, they never do.] Heine/Harris: “When you do all the things you said you never would, but now you find it's the only thing going.” Earthly fulfillment, tangible form, sequestered by powers. The postponement of happiness to the hereafter as playing nicely into hands of the S.Q.: deferral of fulfillment as deference to the way things were.

    TO THE HAPPY FEW: The Archangel Of Terror bears witness only to the supplanting of happiness from the holy hereafter of the spirit to that of the ideal state. NOT MUCH, plus ça change... You can tell what a man is like by seeing how he sets out each morning on his chasse au bonheur. [With a smile, a limp, a pocket full of apricots?]

    POLITICS and HAPPINESS: the wars and alarms (and glory) of the Napoleonic period were over, reaction had set in, the narrow self-interests of burgeoning capitalism had taken center stage: politics was boring. “Do not imagine you know where the happiness of your life really lay until you are about to die.” Métilde Dembowski: 'I shall love you for the rest of my life, nothing you do will ever change the idea which strikes upon my soul, the idea that I am made for the happiness of being loved by you, or the contempt which this gives me for any other sort happiness...,’ which might be betrayed by being written down — (too late).

    A useless young man once again. Saint-Just: Happiness is a new idea in Europe— New idea/ Earthly satisfaction/ this is as good as it gets/ doing the things you said you never would / because it's all there is that's good and that's good things a list of good things. A happy idea in Europe — Falling into sturdy elderberry bush, wondering how much is this great beer. Hazy, sleepless, squinting at patriarchal clouds and expanses of antique green. The old world of new ideas. On Stargarderstraße wondering what is the smartest idea an animal has ever had; or wondering what is the causal link between neurosis and harmony. “In accordance with right functioning.” Anger fades to melancholy and amusement. [Good memories of bad times] You are looking out the window of an airplane; it's a solemn, awesome sight; you are staring seriously but you can't help grinning, almost laughing. Slimer: “In the yin-yang breeze of dream temples passed.”

Then came August. Drinking strong Rosamonte from a gourd, spiked with herbal powder brought from Brazil (worried I added too much, my heart pounding through my Flamengo kit). Later on, playing repetitive guitar lines, my foot on the volume pedal gently shifting the overtones of internal feedback; my eyes closed, I had a sort of trance vision of a desert scene, with camels, men wearing turbans, the sun setting. It was a hot evening in Brooklyn, Alex was playing the drums, Brian was on bass, and I was still playing the guitar. “Blueberries”
    Later, a gray, rainy, melancholy, peaceful Sunday: Underwater Life Reflections Reflective Thinking. “Hey mein Freibeuter...”
    “Nimm mich mit,” and the rain lets up. Exeunt, the asphalt swiftly drying, steering my bicycle west through Bed-Stuy, towards Ft. Greene Park, over Manhattan Bridge, ending up in Chinatown (all three places seemed infected by the aura of novelty I succeeded in creating by taking the less-traveled side streets of Bed-Stuy). Sat in a noodle shop and read a bit: “Truth and life are very difficult to fathom, and I retained of them, without really having got to know them, an impression in which sadness was perhaps actually eclipsed by exhaustion.” Exhaustion and sorrow allayed by music, beverages, fictional life reflections. So passed the summer.

Who am I forgetting? Valéry, Vanay. Neri Cardozo, Rodrigo Palacio, Juan Román Riquelme. Franco Falsini was always there, as was Pinhas, Lô, and El Flaco Spinetta. Caetano, Cathal, Lawrence. A pine tree in a sunny clearing. “A Man leaning on a stick gazed fixedly upon this scene. He could not remove his eyes from it.” As Piero says, “Las cosas se cuentan solas / solo hay que saber mirar.” [San Telmo Market several months prior] Do you know how to look at this?
    Innocent delights, a harmless dog. Miles was singing and playing the drums, and Sam was playing a  keyboard on the floor. A wild show at the Redemption Center. We played last, most of the crowd leaves. Miles starts asking the stragglers, “Where does the trash go?”
    Soon after, I left New York.

“Blest who was youthful in his youth, blest who matured at the right time. Who gradually the chill of life with years was able to withstand. Who never was addicted to strange dreams, who did not shun the fashionable rabble. Who was at twenty fop or blade, and then at thirty, profitably married. Who rid himself at fifty of private and of other debts, who fame, money, and rank in due course calmly gained. About whom lifelong one kept saying: X.X. is an excellent man.
    “But it is sad to think that to no purpose youth was given us, that we betrayed it every hour, that it duped us. That our best wishes, that our fresh dreamings, in quick succession have decayed like leaves in putrid autumn. It is unbearable to see before one only of dinners a long series, to look on life as on a rite, and in the wake of the decorous crowd to go, not sharing with it either general views, or passions.”


N.D. / Paris, August 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Portraits from the Austrian avant-garde of the 60s and 70s

Peter Handke in the 1970s
Feminine "Sponti" disrupts the "Internationale Literaturforum" in Frankfurt am Main, 1967. Erich Fried on the left, Handke unimpressed at the microphone, H.C. Artmann above him
H.C. Artmann plays the "Armer Poet"
Gerald Bisinger, H.C. Artmann, and Gert Jonke in Berlin, 1970
Barbara Frischmuth, Gert Jonke, Klaus Hoffer at the "Frankfurter Buchmesse" in 1969
Gert Jonke
Jonke again
Ingeborg Bachmann in the kitchen of her Rome apartment, 1968
Konrad Bayer at the Gruppe 47 meeting in Saulgau, Germany in 1963, a year before his death
Wolfgang Bauer
Michael Scharang
The floorplans for possible uses of the Forum Stadtpark in Graz
Hubert Fabian Kulterer, publisher, academic, writer and actionist, the inspiration for Thomas Bernhard's short story "Der Kulterer"
The Vienna avant-garde in 1966: (L to R) Oswald Wiener, Dominik Steiger, Hermann Nitsch, Ingrid Wiener, Gerhard Rühm, Reinhard Priessnitz
"7 students play african-american music" in the "adebar" in Vienna, 1954. On trumpet: a young Oswald Wiener
Oswald Wiener in the 1960s

All images from Österreichische Literatur seit 1945: eine Annäherung in Bildern (Reclam, 2000)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Some manuskripte covers

manuskripte is an Austrian literary journal, first published in 1960, founded by Alfred Kolleritsch, based in Graz. More information here and here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thurston Dart - French Suites (Clavichord recording, 1961)

After being unable to find any good clavichord recordings elsewhere on the internet, I felt I should share this disk, despite this not being a "real" music blog. I'm not sure if these recordings have been reissued, but they are a great document of the capabilities of this neglected instrument. I originally acquired this LP when my friend Ian offered me my pick of a load of classical vinyl that Academy Records (the Williamsburg branch, where he worked) could not sell and was trying to get rid of. For shame, uncultured Brooklyn! This was one of the best of the batch.

From a 1962 review of Dart's recording:
The French Suites were actually called by Bach Suites pour le clavecin; but this does not mean that the nature of the keyboard instrument for which they were intended can be precisely specified. Terry was of the opinion that they "are suited to the harpsichord rather than the clavichord, for they invite the tonal contrasts which only the former could afford", but a convincing case could doubtless be put forward for the clavichord, since it was Bach's favourite domestic instrument and the Suites were initially written in a home album for Bach's second wife Anna Magdalena. Anyway, Thurston Dart's performances on the clavichord, though obviously without the range of colour of Kirkpatrick's recordings, make unfailingly satisfying listening by reason of their sheer musicality, their stylishness, their varied articulation and their wealth of expressive nuance. By omitting all repeats (and even the do capo Minuet in Suite I, though not that in Suite III), Dart saves a whole side over his rival—who, of course, was able to vary his registration for each repeat; but though the music is often so fine that one wants to hear it through again (and though, of course, dance-form movements, such as these all are, should properly have each half repeated), for gramophone purposes the shorter version has its advantages.
I've mentioned here before how I value a sense of intimacy in recordings of chamber music. Whether or not these pieces were intended to be played on the clavichord, this instrument produces the more intimate recording, as though it were more an approximation of Bach's own compositional process rather than the suites' first public performance.

Thurston Dart in 1964, via Semibrevity.
Information about Thurston Dart can be found here at the Semibrevity blog. Dart was apparently one of the earliest and most influential proponents of early music and period instrumentation, although his own work has not had very much exposure.

Thurston Dart - French Suites (1961)

A1.  Suite No. 1 in D Minor (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Menuets I & II - Gigue)    8:34
A2.  Suite No. 2 in C Minor (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Air - Menuet - Gigue)    7:24
A3.  Suite No. 3 in B Minor (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Anglaise - Menuet & Trio - Gigue)    8:54
B1.  Suite No. 4 in E Flat Major (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Gavotte - Menuet - Air - Gigue)    8:03
B2.  Suite No. 5 in G Major (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Gavotte - Bourree - Loure - Gigue)    10:14
B3.  Suite No. 6 in E Major (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Gavotte - Polonaise - Bourree - Menuet - Gigue)    9:23


The Happy Stirrup reissue out now on New Images

The reissue of my 2007 CDR The Happy Stirrup—as a double LP including one side of bonus material—is out now on New Images Limited. Order direct from New Images here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New (academic) poems

And now, for your reading pleasure, three new poems from some of the most gifted new poetic voices active in our American academies:

"Trace(s), fragment(s), remain(s)"

Ways of knowing, ways of doing
Systems, methods, processes
Paper, palimpsests
Impressions, inscriptions, recordings
Photography, analog and digital
Secrets, enigmas, decoding
Bodies : materiality/ spectrality
Screens, digital traces
Accounts, eyewitness and otherwise
Marks, tracks, signs
Style, stylus, pen
Death, steles, tombs
Hyphens / parentheses / blanks
Past / present
Reality / virtuality
Unity / diversity
Events / accidents / crises
Nature / destiny
Continuity / discontinuity
Memory / forgetting
Transmission, passing, surpassing
Voices, subjects, presence
Sites of passage, sites of passages
Trails, wakes, furrows, lines

"(An)Aesthetic of Absence"

The ethics, politics, morality of absence
Absent signifiers, absent texts
The anti-aesthetics of absence
Authorship in death, in exile, in absentia
Absent God(s), authors, voices
Absent senses and questions of ability/disability
Trace and absence (Derrida)
Absence of consciousness; consciousness of absence
Numbness, lack of feeling (momentary or permanent)
Absence of reality: simulation and simulacra
Performing absence

"Enough is (Not) Enough"

Luxury, indulgence, waste
Hoarding, accumulating, greed
Deviant bodies, gluttony, addiction
Transgressions, sins, breaches of decorum
Obsessions and compulsions
Repetition, boredom, tedium
Exaggerations, verbosity
Fragments, ruins, garbage
Inflation, value, debt
Hate, war, violence

If you haven't already figured it out, these three poems are not actually poems, but are lists of possible topics (or "axes of analysis") for papers to be given at academic conferences at North American universities (Georgia Tech, University of Toronto, and University of Washington respectively), culled from "calls for papers" sent out to my own academic department's email list. As hard as it may be to believe, the titles are not my own satiric creation, but are the actual titles for each conference; it is mere coincidence that all three utilize the Superfluous Academic Parenthesis—a formal innovation developed in the late-twentieth century in order to avoid clear meanings, and to give a title an air of multivalent indeterminacy, handy for cloaking a lack of actual intellectual content. These lists are invariably preceded by the qualification: "possible topics may include, but are in no way limited to...," as if the limitation of a closed set of possible topics were an affront to intellectual freedom.
These lists of possible topics are part of the general organizing principle of academic conferences, the main purpose of which is to avoid clear, specific topics which may bring together scholars working in similar areas. Instead, the idea is to bring together work related by an abstract conceptual rubric—the intellectual creation of the conference's conveners—in relation to which several papers which have nothing to do with each other may be made to appear as if they related to each other. Not only this, but the thesis is then put forward that these forced conceptual interrelations are actually productive, and help everyone present to arrive at a radical new understanding of something-or-other. Papers on the Berlin wall, Lewis and Clark, the sociology of medieval bridge design, and cellular osmosis can be presented in quick succession under the analytical grouping concept of "frontiers". This kind of intellectualized montage technique is presented for an audience of willing listeners in order to enlighten the communal understanding of "frontiers," challenging and perhaps changing perceptions of this difficult and divisive concept. A brief look in the dictionary is, however, often more enlightening.
But at least we get some exciting poetry out of it. For those searching, this is where today's true avant garde is found: absurdists and surrealists disguised as eager young literary pseudo-scientists. Lux et veritas!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Architecture/"public works" collection, Summer 2012

A selection of architectural specimens, gathered this summer. 








Rougemont à Florac









"Le pont du malheur", Intres