Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Just a quick post-Manchester note, rather than a serious aesthetic encounter. I'm reading Frederic Jameson's book on Adorno and Late Marxism, so we'll save that for later (though I did enjoy reading Giles Foden's The Last King of Africa, which I'm teaching tomorrow, on the train back).
Manchester was good: boozy, talky, football-y although not particularly eat-y until I cooked a colossal chilli on the last night. My chilli, by the way:
Large onion, finely chopped
3/4 cloves of garlic
Kidney beans, not 'chilli beans'
2 red chillis, 1 chopped finely, the other roughly
Salt and black pepper
1 1/2 or 2 Beef Oxo
Red pepper (optional)
Green pepper (optional)
Red wine (optional)
Can add chopped herbs at the end, probably coriander but parsley would work too
Cook for ages, occasionally adding stock so the pan doesn't stick. Serve with rice and sour cream.
I'll add more recipes as and when, including my all-time-low (black glue fire gumbo with pork and clagged up rice- thanks, BBC Food).
Anyway, we got up to Gigg Lane safely to see Darlo v. Bury. I'm a big fan of the Manchester Metrolink trains. Once there, we went to an old-man pub with Camra and Cask Marque signs on the door in time to get a couple of beers. We were a bit late for the game because our real ale fug drew us into a conversation with some Bury fans, which seemed to consist of rather English mutual acknowledgements of impending defeat ('We're rubbish!' 'No...we're rubbish...')
Anyway, Darlo won a penalty within thirty seconds of us finding our seats. This was neatly converted by the prodigal Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu, who went on to waste two fairly easy chances in quick succession. He does look like a valuable addition to the forward line though, largely because he can actually run with, and head, the ball. Half-time was greatly improved by a Chicken Balti pie although I could also have done with a cup of tea. Micky Cummins got the second after good work by Kevin Gall, who looked far more impressive in this game than he had done in any since his arrival from Carlisle. Pawel Abbott returned from injury as a substitute to put a foot on the ball up front, and we held out- despite a late Bury goal- with a last minute goal-line intervention from Stephen Foster.
Back to Manchester, back to booze, back to wandering around Rusholme at two in the morning feeling distinctly un-Kansas. I postponed getting the train back for a day on the grounds that I wanted to avoid the rail replacement bus that I ended up having to get on the Monday anyway because of a factory fire in Peterborough.
A fun weekend, then, but one in no way conducive to a coherent posting. Back to Green.
Friday, 22 February 2008
This BOC video shows some of the world record for both the highest altitude parachute jump (31,300 metres) and the longest freefall (four minutes and thirty-six seconds, to 5,300 metres). The record was set on August 16th, 1960, by American Joseph Kittinger.
I'd love to know what he did that night...'Alright Bob, nice day at work?' 'No, my secretary was off sick and I had to field all of my own calls. Yourself?' 'Oh, you know, the usual. Thirteen mile free-fall from the outer stratosphere, got frostbite because the pressurizer in my glove was knackered...my hand nearly fell off. What are you drinking?'
Good old Boards, though- always good for the tear-jerkers.
Thursday, 21 February 2008
Anyway, I'm well excited about seeing the views and having a couple of days up North. Another exciting Pennine trip is booked for July, when I'm going up Oldham (into Michael Haslam country) way for my friend James's wedding. Excellent stuff, I think.
Now, I'm no fan of the global super-rich in any of their guises: my nightmare dinner party seating plan would almost certainly feature the Sultan of Brunei, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary and any number of owners of Premier League football clubs. In Cadwalladr's article, however, a justifiable tone of reproach towards the more or less stateless tastelessness of the oligarchy seems to lurch towards an older and altogether more troubling rhetoric. Having listed the various extravagances on which they are invited to spend their petro-roubles, Cadwalladr turns to the female escorts of the billionaires. Somewhat conventionally, she see describes menacing flocks of '6ft, high-cheekboned, otherworldly models', the (stereo)typical Bond villain consorts of choice. At this point, you should already be intrigued by the use of the word 'otherworldy', which I suspect has, in this instance, slipped its semantic moorings to the concept of beauty under the magnetic pull of the Othering process. And, lo and behold:
Later, in the toilets, I enter a cubicle from which a stunning 6ft supermodel type in an immaculate designer dress, make-up and fur coat emerges. There is piss all over the seat.
I'm sorry, but this really is unacceptable. The anecdote may well be one hundred percent true, but that doesn't describe the insidiousness of the rhetorical procedure at work here. The reader has already been drawn into some kind of complicity regarding the non-complimentary 'otherwordliness' of the Russian models. Here, this thought is both checked (by the 'civilizing' force of make up) and reaffirmed (through the classic technique of troping female gaucheness with a fur coat) before the delivery of the punchline. The beastly, feral Slav can't use a toilet properly!!! Even though she's dressed up all rich!!!
I'm not by any means saying that Cadwalladr consciously deploys racist imagery. What I am saying is that there has been a serious breakdown in the cultural imaginary here. I know I wrote a piece making a case against the argument that Heart of Darkness is a racist text a few weeks back, but Marlow is a narrator who sets out as the possessor of a fundamentally racist imagination. One of the instances in which this prejudice is most clearly manifested is in his description of his Congolese boilerman, whom he finds difficult to take seriously due to his wearing of a 'western' style uniform:
He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs.
This is surely the same sort of intellectual manoeuvre as the one I describe above. The Other is portrayed as borrowing the clothes of (Western, capitalist) civilization without paying due note to its social providences. It is clearly disgust that is being articulated here, and in a language that manages to exacerbate the theoretical impossibility of meaningful cultural accords between the 'West' and the 'East' by putting the Russian in the subordinate position of the imitator. At the very best, this kind of writing is unhelpful.
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Parte Vieja, becalmed
On the Cercania from Irun a party of yellow-shirted teenagers, all intoxicated, were crumbling hash into a cigarette paper. It was nearly eight in the morning. We thought they were returning from a nightclub in Irun: in Europe there are often big parties in small frontier towns. I don't know why. The queasy, artificial smell segued into another fog of boozy breath.
It took some time to establish what was happening in San Sebastian. It was the day of the regatta which brings the Basque Games to its rumbunctious, Sidra-drenched climax. From all the towns of Guipuzcoa poured forth teams and their fans. The yellow shirts were but four of ten thousand, and that ten thousand only a quarter (or so) of a throng of primary colours which cut sharp patterns against the weathered stone of the Parte Vieja. Moreover, it was raining, a fine Atlantic mist by which I would have been less surprised to be cloaked in Dunoon, Ilfracombe, or Aberdyfi. Dark skies made the narrow streets even more claustrophobic.
By a little after eleven- on the twenty-four hour clock- everybody was pretty much drunk. There had been a run on the local cider, acrid and carmine, which was vended in long glass bottles. Perhaps not coincidentally, the stretched, swannish stems of the bottlenecks were ideally suited to the improvisation of petrol bombs. Having visited this town before, we were attuned to the seditious buzz which precedes trouble. Soon enough, the Ersaintza riot squads were out in the streets, swinging batons and firing rubber bullets. As it is invariably wise to do in these situations, we took ourselves away from the commotion for a bacon & cheese sandwich and a can of coke.
Should any reader, knowing his Far Eastern ports well, form the opinion that the places described here do not correspond to reality, the author, who has himself spent the greater part of his life there, would advise him to go back and look again: things change quickly in those parts.
So goes the twin (uncanny?) preface to Robbe-Grillet's The House of Assignation, a novel which, I think, stands as the high-water mark of his numerous achievements in the fields of fiction writing, literary criticism, and cinema. This isn't a conventional appreciation of his oeuvre: the smart money says that most would pinpoint Jealousy or, at a push, the theoretical screed of Towards a New Novel as the Breton's outstanding contribution to letters. I must confess a personal affection for The House of Assignation however, as it was the text on which my Masters dissertation turned and I nostalgically associate it- much as such an affect might earn the reproach of its author- with a long, hot summer of torturously close reading. On the barely more firm ground of critical justification, I would argue that it is also the novel in which Robbe-Grillet is most realised as a satirical humorist, what with its English characters caught in the unexplored hinterland between Bond and Python, and also the work which serves as the most successful execution of the anti-novel in the Nouveau Roman canon. Twisting time back on itself, repeating scenes in mise-en-abyme, coining irresolvable narrative paradoxes, employing devices which elicit the sense that the world itself is always already a text: The House of Assignation is a full set of tools for antirealists from Amis to Acker.
I consciously invoke the concept of the anti-novel here because it was this concept which drew me, as an unformed lump of Protean critic, to Robbe-Grillet's fiction. At the time- nineteen going on twenty- the iconoclastic appeal of the New Novel far outweighed, and indeed concealed, the serious philosophical groundings of the literary project undertaken in France from the Thirties onwards. Strangely, the principle of the anti-novel seemed at the time to be freighted with the inexhaustible possibility of all the literary forms still to come, all of which would somehow represent yet another leap forward from the restrictions of realism. Jealousy struck me as a radical break (an impression which I still think has some validity), a Year Zero for the imagination. Somehow, it passed me by that Robbe-Grillet's fiction militated in many ways against the literary imagination as, say, Henry Green might conceive of it. Nevertheless, I began writing myself sets of rules which I thought would liberate my own writing from what I now suspect to have been the dungeons of my own paranoid inclinations.
My relationship with Robbe-Grillet has changed substantially over the last few years, but I still retain a deep admiration for his work. I admire unreservedly his redefinition of what a literature of commitment might look like, a shift in terms which is implicit in his criticisms of Sartre. In the UK, we still find it hard to conceive of a politics of writing which is sited firmly in the text itself, working by exposing the subliminal ideological moves by which realist, and much modernist, fiction projects a world. Robbe-Grillet's writing is extremely attentive to the way in which power operates through language and through fiction. Additionally, we find it hard to appreciate the very real relationships that existed between elements of the literary avant-garde and the active Resistance in France during the Second World War. Robbe-Grillet, whose background was scientific rather than literary, was himself forced to perform unpaid work in a German labour camp during the conflict: it seems somehow rich that British critics should disparage his work on the grounds that its political operations are neither explicit nor accessible through the tried and trusted format of allegory. Understanding that realist fiction could be used as the vehicle for the articulation of the kinds of deterministic 'truth' so amenable to totalitarianism, the French anti-novelists produced, from the writing of Maurice Blanchot onwards, what Denis Hollier has called 'a paradoxical form of litterature engageé, a paradoxical form of the literature of commitment: literature committed to its own exclusion.' For Robbe-Grillet and some of his (nominal) fellow travellers, the idea that literature might be absolved of the responsibility to fulfil a social function was, in a period in which the motivations of anyone who purported to understand what was best for 'everyone' were at best suspect, a powerful political gesture in itself. Writing that at least sought to dodge the net of ideology was, in many ways, at least as effective as the much-lauded work of Orwell was in Britain.
I'm also drawn to Robbe-Grillet's writing for more traditional reasons. I might be contradicting myself by drawing attention to some of the more referential features of his novels, but I still find The Erasers (his first published novel) to be one of the most erudite working-outs of detective fiction that has yet been written. When I say 'referential' I don't really mean that it is a realist work, but that it re-appropriates and remotivates the iconography of Georges Simenon's literary Francophony. I love this world, this singularity which is not so: endless Boulevards Periphique and avenues lined with uniformly grey buildings, petty buereacrats, tabacs in the hours just after dawn, stuffily-dressed gendarmes and lackadaisical detectives. By taking the significations of the detective story and embedding them within a critique of anthropocentrism (the activities, often poetic, by which the human imagination imbues the external world with meaningfulness) The Erasers pulls off an auteurish appropriation of popular culture in the service of a phenomenological investigation which anticipates Godard. More simply, though, and perhaps in contrast to the position of the distinguished Robbe-Grillet scholar Stephen Heath, the novel's draw is through its well-maintained reality effect, which is put in the service of an unrealistic narrative structure.
Many would identify Robbe-Grillet's work as being reducible to three distinct periods. The first, and most notorious, is the set of works which crystallizes around Jealousy and the cine-novel Last Year at Marienbad. In these works, the narrative aims for a certain objectivity which is associated with the imperative to uphold the alienating condition of an external world with which we can have no real relation. The second period, to which The House of Assignation belongs, is driven by similar concerns to those being awakened by (amongst others) Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva. While the radical objectivity of the narrative voice is largely maintained in these novels, there is a shift to more open-ended ludic structures which demand that the reader play a significant role in the performance of the text. The story, such as it is, is peppered with half-disguised riddles and guessing games. What Gerard Genette calls the 'paratext'- the microtexts which exist on the fringes of the literary work and shape our reading of it, such as prefaces, titles, blurbs and dedications- comes to the fore to a greater extent, throwing the boundaries of fictionality into disarray. In this period, Robbe-Grillet's mischievous, often absurdist humour is allowed more reign to express itself. The third period sees an intensification of these methods with an additional focus on violence and eroticism: Project for a Revolution in New York is probably the most famous of these 'new New Novels'.
These are just scattered notes intended to suggest some of the ways in which Robbe-Grillet's writing has bestowed upon literature the dead ends that make it engage in a collective act of thinking again. His demand for fiction to be ontologically accountable has, predictably, been largely misconstrued in the Anglophone world just as his novels have often been described as unreadable. And yet I find it hard to imagine a literary landscape unscarred, or untested, by his body of work. Arguably, he was the last great modernist writer, whose negations of referentiality somehow constituted an act of representation in themselves. His work defines the problematics for virtually all of the fiction of the last fifty years.
Friday, 15 February 2008
Rain rinses the road
the bull streams and laments.
Sour rye rises from the hob
with cream and black tea,
meat, crust and crumb.
Her parents in bed
the children dry their clothes.
He has untied the tape
of her striped flannel drawers
before the range. Naked
on the pricked rag mat
his fingers comb
thatch of his manhood's home.
The 'T' key on my laptop is being a pain in the arse so it's difficult to write much. It reminds me of the story of Deleuze's fingernails.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
It was a melancholy scene, but I lightened my mood by pretending she was on the run from the unwanted solicitations of Mr Bean.
Continuing the romantic theme tomorrow with a musing on a saucy stanza from Basil Bunting's Briggflatts, I hope.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
I often sound apologetic about the football stuff, about my love for something which often doesn't seem to be redeemable even via the mediations of thinking (or blogging) about the irrelevance, or non-existence, of a discrepancy between 'low' and 'high' culture. I often feel like it is the one interest or concern that I can't really justify, even to myself.
Now, I write about Henry Green, and about the relationship between fiction and historical and national identities, and about the role of affect in the literature of the 40s, and about nostalgia. Green, perhaps, is a way into explaining, and hopefully assuaging, my anxieties regarding this matter. In broadly Lacanian terms, Green's novels often dramatize the interplay between the Imaginary (the attempt to capture an identity through identification) and the Symbolic (the letting-go of identification and submission to the fluidity of signification). I won't mention the Real here, by the way. Of Lacan's interlocutors, I think Malcolm Bowie gets it right by arguing that 'good' maturation involves an affirmative response to the inevitability of the Symbolic, particularly because he alights upon the political ramifications of such a reaction. One might well argue that many of history's most shocking aberrations have been perpetrated in the pursuit of identification and fixity, or against the potential amorphousness of the subject as it is (relationally) constituted in the Symbolic.
For Green, the concept of identity reveals its true potential in its solubility, or in the possibility that it might quite literally 'give up the ghost'. Plots turn on the capability (or lack of) a character to reject an (often sexual) identification and embrace instability. By and large, they don't, or don't fully. While recommendations for the Symbolic burst out all around them, and inside them (this may or may not mean the same thing, but they will not grasp the positive implications of the fact), they attempt to keep hold of that which transfixes them. No-one moves. Narratives move full-circle, encompassing a poetry which erupts at the cost of a misidentification on the behalf of the characters.
In The Future of Nostalgia, the contemporary critic and playwright Svetlana Boym seems to hint at such a distinction by embedding Jean Starobicki's definitions of 'restorative' and 'reflective' nostalgias within a covertly psychoanalytic argument. Realising that contemporary culture is incurably nostalgic, Boym seeks to find a pathway for the affliction which will prevent it being mobilised by a conservative, 'restorative' politics. Like the early Derrida, she hypothesizes a way in which the significations of nostalgia might be motivated kaleidoscopically, towards undefined, and therefore not strictly nostalgic, ends. The identifications which one forms in the spirit of nostalgia might, therefore, become productive, benign, and even spontaneous.
So, football, to which I relate in a fundamentally nostalgic fashion. It seems to me that we 'happen' as the nexus of complexly stratified identifications. While the primary identifications are, at least in a pragmatic sense, necessary and desirable, certain cultural choices are more visibly contingent. We pick things up, we roll them around in our hand, we let them go as and when it becomes possible or providential to do so. While it is frequently providential, possibility doesn't show itself quite so often. Neurotically, pathologically, we clutch tightly onto our symptoms.
And the football, and the Darlo, is one that I do hold onto. It is utterly Imaginary, until I pick up on the fact and put more of myself back into play, as it were. Can I have the significations of my symptom on my own terms? I think I'll dawdle towards that conclusion, ever so slowly. But I don't see a predilection for football, or boxing, or flat racing as being more of a secondary identification than, for example, a predilection for critical theory, Tarkovsky movies, Gauloise or organic food is. I don't see why I should have to be significantly more distanced from my optional cultural affiliations than people who appreciate contemporary dance should be. And I think that this argument is one of the most profound that emerges from Green's novels: we live, and love, in a state of absolute delusion, and it is only the missed encounter with the delusion itself that makes this problematic.
Today's tenuous link: Wisbech is near Peterborough, and well within the 'fan catchment' for League Two moneybagses Peterborough United. Peterborough United will, in all probability, be one of Darlington's main rivals during the imminent 'business end' of the football season. Darlington themselves are looking scarily like pulling it off this year. A football truism dictates that teams need to be able to 'win ugly' if they are to be successful, and the performance I witnessed at home to Barnet on Saturday certainly suggested that the Quakers have the right credentials in that area. A sweet strike by Julian Joachim, one of those odd forgotten men of football in the Nii Lamptey or Paul Warhurst mould, gave us a lead which was maintained by a sharp penalty save by ever-more-valuable goalkeeper David Stockdale, some atrocious finishing by Barnet's forwards, and the referee's inexplicable decision to allow meat-and-tatties centre-half Alan White to remain on the pitch after a clear professional foul. Other than that, we were rubbish.
My optimism became slightly less tentative when I returned from seven-a-side last night (two goals: one Linekeresque poach and a first time volley) to discover that we'd done a smash-and-grab raid on Notts County. One-nil again. We never win at Meadow Lane, ever. On this occasion, it was 'unreconstructed' midfielder Ricky Ravenhill who got the goal. Our next two games are at home to lowly Mansfield and the currently woeful, terminally in-crisis, Chester City. I refuse to make predictions.
As I'm going to post more about Darlo as the season draws to its squeaky-arsed climax, I thought I'd give a quick, pen-picture, summary of the squad. Being as I'm going to be largely chained to the desk for the next seven months, odds are I won't be getting out much to find other things to write about.
David Stockdale (GK)- Young goalkeeper who I thought was going to be rubbish and isn't. Has six different goalkeeper kits, each more garish than the last. On Saturday, he looked like a packet of Wrigleys. Said to be attracting interest from bigger clubs.
Przemyslaw Kazimierczak (GK)- The most unpronouncable Darlo player since rarely-seen Canadian keeper Lucas Papaconstantinou. Hasn't played yet.
Andy Oakes (GK)- Was supposed to be first-choice at the start of the season, but since being usurped by Stockdale has taken on the countenance of the stoic veteran in a Roy of the Rovers story who is forced to accept that the young guns are taking over.
Neil Austin (RB)- Tall full-back who looks like the pictures used to illustrate the 16th-century yeomanry in GCSE history.
Ryan Valentine (R/LB)- Has just returned from a spell in purgatory (Wrexham). A bit of a hero amongst the Loids, for the usual League 2 reasons: thundering challenges, short back and sides, stern expression.
Tim Ryan (LB)- Dave Penney, our manager, calls him 'Rat'. I call him 'injured'.
John Brackstone (LB)- Came from Hartlepool, our local rivals. Is reputed to be rubbish, but no-one can tell as he never plays.
Scott Wiseman (RB)- Came from Hull, like my girlfriend. Is definitely rubbish. Dave Penney seems to agree with me.
Ian Miller (CB)- Former non-leaguer who was professionalized in a fit of philanthropy by Ipswich Town. Joined us and surprised everyone by being rather good. Tends to be a sub, though.
Stephen Foster (CB)- 1950s throwback captain, as honest as the day is long etc etc. Looks a bit like Droopy Dog. He's really very good, and has marshalled the defence into becoming one of the tightest in the country.
Alan White (CB)- Local boy finally playing for his hometown club. Scores highly on the 'Valentine Scale'. Gets booked nearly every game, unless he goes that extra mile and gets sent off. Weighs in with his share of goals.
Neil Wainwright (L/RW)- Has been around for a very long time, like a much-loved labrador. Fans' favourite, for reasons pertaining to application/ longevity rather than outrageous skill. Hasn't been seen too much this season. Uses his Myspace to promote his love of 1990s guitar bands.
Richie Foran (LW/ST)- Versatile Irishman with a bit of a temper. Is strictly speaking on loan from Southend, but his promising showings have made most of us forget this troubling fact.
Rob Purdie (anywhere on the pitch, it seems)- Ex-Hereford captain with a slightly public-school appearance. Never plays well when I'm there, but does when I'm not.
Julian Joachim (RW/ ST)- Was supposed to be the future of English football at one point, but drifted off the map in the late '90s. Not as quick as he was, but still capable of scoring some lovely goals.
Ricky Ravenhill (M)- Tenacious, enthusiastic, guileless midfielder. Loved by my brother, inspires ambivalence in me.
Clark Keltie (M)- One of our most naturally talented players who, unfortunately, gets slated by the fans when he's not playing too well. Has a tendency to convince himself that he's Michael Carrick at times. Once featured in a sub-Cosmopolitan magazine article, and has had a sequence of amusing haircuts.
Micky Cummins (M)- Good player, but a confidence player. Technically better than this level, but sometimes seems a bit lost.
Guy Ndumbu-Nsungu (ST)- Hasn't played since his return to the club as he's been injured. Another player who is technically proficient but prone to flights of fantasy where he's playing in the World Cup final.
Gregg Blundell (ST)- Scouse journeyman who runs after everything and occasionally gets a break. Seems to enjoy playing for the club, and has a good rapport with the fans.
Pawel Abbott (ST)- Big-money summer signing from Swansea who has represented Poland at U-21 level, despite hailing from the slightly less exotic locale of York. Gets injured all the time so we're yet to see the best of him, but is in a different class to the majority of League 2 players in terms of his footballing brain. Will have a big part to play next season if we go up.
Tommy Wright (ST)- Former Leicester striker and leading scorer. Tommy is a 'classic British centre forward' from the Duncan Ferguson school. Seems to be the victim of a refereeing conspiracy since a flailing arm at Barnet last season saw him expelled from the pitch with less than a minute on the clock. Given all this, it's kind of predictable that he's another terrace favourite.
Martin Smith (Mercurial Forward)- Like most mercurial forwards, Martin Smith is always in the treatment room, which is sad because he's a genius. Was once predicted to become Britain's first £10 million footballer. Out for the rest of the season, sadly.
Kevin Gall (ST)- Our prodigious injury situation has demanded yet another striker, so we've signed Carlisle squadder Kevin Gall. Was once great for me on Championship Manager, but doesn't look so good in real life. Wears blue boots, suggesting his allegiances might still belong on the other (wrong) side of the Pennines.
There. That's my boorish football article out of the way. There'll be something more intellectually stimulating later in the week, I promise. Time for coffee, and Passage to India.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Anyway, what was I going to do?
- Write something about vague spookiness, pet hate extraordinaire.
- Post one or two poems up here, irrespective of the fact that people might actually read them.
- Do something more boorish about football, because I like it.
- Make clear my opinions about certain magazine columnists in a certain Manchester-born newspaper.
- Say something about music. I'm listening to it like I actually care again.
- Update the links.
- Pictures, in all of their mishandled glory (off-modernism, baby...)
- Angst-ridden quotations from Archive Fever, or from blogs about Archive Fever, or from blogs about blogs about Archive Fever
- Articles brimming with all of my barely-repressed insecurities/neuroses regarding the intellectual acumen of my peers/friends.
I'd love to be able to engage in a relaxed and competent manner with elements of critical theory on here, like all of those self-proclaimedly 'Deleuzian' or 'Lacanian' bloggers who fight their amusing little fights on the internet, but I'm really quite inept at articulating myself in that manner. Furthermore, I'm slightly suspicious that the internet Lacanians are actually, pre-dominantly, a troupe of performing neologists who feel the need to ex-hibit themselves under a (putatively) Lacanian rubric in a form of Symbolic compensation for the Real grades of Masters essays in which they argue that the Real is reducible to that which is beyond the Signifier exhausted by relationality.
See what I did there?
Monday, 4 February 2008
I'm teaching first-years undergraduates again at the moment. This week, it's Heart of Darkness. Apparently, a check of the citation index will show me that Heart of Darkness is the most academically written-about text in the entire field, which is no small feat given the weight of criticism on every aspect of the minutiae of (for example) Joyce or Woolf. Anyway, if one goes beyond the 'Chinua Achebe Argument' about Heart of Darkness (that the novel is racist because it reduces Africa to the status of a colourful backdrop against which the crisis of identity in modernity might be staged) it is a wonderful work. This isn't to say, of course, that some of Achebe's argument doesn't hold up under certain conditions, but to make an argument about Conrad's poetic achievement. I might even be tempted to argue that to reduce the endlessly proliferating inferences of the text to nothing more thajn racist dogma is to inadvertently collude with any defamatory intentions Conrad might have held, as the novel, motivated by an uncanniness or extimacy (the furthest inside is always outside; reaching 'meaning' is always a beginning-again), crystallizes as a logic only through the supplementary activity of reading.
What I find particularly fascinating is the rhythmic movement of the novel, which develops an emergent para-metre out of disguised repetitions. On the page and 'inside' the narrative, the writing lingers at various staging points and stations, which might be best thought of in terms of temporary, unplanned postponements of movement and more extended periods of time in which progress is arrested according to plan. Each station acts as a staging ground not only for the receipt of information but for its digestion or interpretation, the transformation of the impressionistic and sensory flux of what Walter Benjamin termed erlebnis into the more stabilised, if provisional, solution of ehrfahrung. As the narrator, Marlow can be seen as the locus of rhythm in the novel even as the musical material originates from a putative elsewhere. Time after time after time, Marlow interrupts the flow of his tale to lend emphasis via the repetition of a particular word or phrase, particularly- and strikingly- when his topic of discussion is auditory phenomena.
Sound, for Marlow, seems to be the point at which the strange and familiar intersect. Nicholas Royle has insisted on the (ellided) significance of the auditory in discussions of the Uncanny (especially in Freud's essay itself) and it strikes me Heart of Darkness would be a good place to begin redressing this problem. Marlow's apparently idiomatic repetitions- in the sense that he might, as a seafaring storyteller in the literary tradition of the Ancient Mariner, be prone to lapses into a melodramatic register- are really indicative of the length of time it takes him to address the alien with a more familiar repertoire of sound-images, or images of sounds (at one point he remarks on how the noises emitting from the jumgle may well have the same function as church-bells in Europe). This, however, is not an extension of the imperial arm, but an acknowledgement of difference based on a projecting forward of time, or a lingering on the linguistically liminal in anticipation of a pending political epiphany which is already halfway 'home'. The ultimate emptiness of the novel's 'heart', or the failed command of the figurehead of progress which is somehow sounded again through the lack of an incorporated meaning, suggests to me both a vital recognition of the ethical implications of extimacy and a consolatory note to the fact of thinking oneself as an individual, or of thought, being ultimately grounded in sound-images. Therefore, I think out loud now, and perhaps don't have to do so on Thursday morning. As I say though, the emphasis on the sonic in the novel, which seems to be both preceded by and in anticipation of a rhythm one locates only formally, is one of the qualities of Heart of Darkness that truly bears analysis as (prose) poetry and, perhaps, elevates the work from the kind of political or ethical economies that the injunctions made by Achebe perhaps leave it stranded in.
Sunday, 3 February 2008
David Peace, GB 84: Peace is just mind-blowingly good, and I'm not going to add the diminutional qualifier 'at what he does' here just because his books are, nominally, crime fiction. I think he's very similar to Iain Sinclair in a lot of ways, in that his focus is on the way in which we lose our imaginative relationship with history in the detail, and come up with these paranoid reconstitutions after the fact. If that doesn't make much sense yet, it's because I love the man's writing so much that I can't really explain why. I will get there. My addendum to this is that Peace's novels are, rather surprisingly, great to read in companion with the work of Yorkshire/ 'Cambridge School' (I'm not affirming the existence of one, necessarily) poet Michael Haslam. Again, this notion is still at the intuitive stage.
Elizabeth Taylor- At Mrs Lippincote's/ A View of the Harbour: More 'Forties Mafia' stuff, and very good it was too. I might say more about this elsewhere.
Russell Hoban- Ridley Walker: Thought this was largely brilliant but for the fact that spending the last few years concentrating of 'after-modernist' rather than 'postmodernist' fiction has left me finding ergodic literature rather difficult. The ingredients are right, though: post-apocalypticism, Punch and Judy, not-quite-overwrought theology. I'll probably go back to it.
Eric Ambler- Passage of Arms/ Judgement on Deltchev: What's not to love about Eric Ambler? Have to say, though, that neither of these were in the same league as Cause for Alarm.
Graham Greene- The Heart of the Matter: I have a love-hate relationship with Graham Greene.
Dennis Potter- Ticket to Ride: So does Dennis Potter.
Can't really remember what else I read in January. I know there was more than that, though.
January listening included lots of Sonic Youth, Autechre, Broadcast and most Warp stuff. Best January not-my-normal-weekend activity was a trip to White Hart Lane to see Spurs take on Reading in the FA Cup. My Berbatov-worship is approaching the silly level now, to the extent where I've found the extravagant sulking creeping into my Sunday and Tuesday seven-a-sides. Ah well, there's a good, overdone closing thought: one 'plays' football like they 'play' a role in the theatre and that all footballing identities are fundamentally performative, especially the Roy Keane characters. I suppose we wouldn't need Judith Butler to tell us that....
Looking out of the window of my flat into one of the houses opposite, I can see an extremely small cat, coloured like a Frisian cow, pawing a Beware of the Dog sign. Poetic justice, perhaps. It's significantly more endearing than the couple a few doors down who don't see the need to close the shutter in the bathroom whenever, erm, 'bodily functions' need attending to. I can't make up my mind as to whether or not they're extremely absent-minded or just particularly sadistic exhibitionist perverts.
Okay, I'm leading the witnesses. I just couldn't work out how to get from the delightful view out of my window to The Departed, which I watched last night, without going down the 'they're perverts, and so is Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed' route, which would have been rather cheap. Kwik Save continuity, if you will. Instead, therefore, you've got the 'disingenuous male twenty-something blogger' (cf. ironic sweeping pan shot) approach.
The Departed is heavy on non-ironic sweeping pan shots of Boston, a city which has always exerted a strange fascination over me: largely, I think, because it's a six point Gamma World City named after a small cabbage farm in south Lincs. Now I don't want to get too Soccer Am about it, but I was enjoying the thought of this remake of 2002 Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs being plotted around corruption and quasi-existentialist tensions in the Boston (Lincs) 'PD'. Matt Damon (who plays the mob's 'man on the inside') could sit and stare moodily out of his window at the Boston Stump, and Jack Nicholson's crime boss could be reconfigured as a Yellowbelly gangmaster.
More seriously, this is Scorsese doing what he does best (except with the added benefit of a clearly expensively-assembled ensemble cast). Nicholson is, as usual, excellent, and I can't help but feel that he should stick to the demented evil-guy roles rather than doing bumbling Victor Meldrew impressions like in Anger Management or As Good as it Gets. Scorsese's humanisation of mobsters is achieved in this case through Nicholson's character being (as I understand it) a sex addict with a secretly-harboured desire for a true son and heir. The perplexingly similar-looking Damon and DiCaprio- who plays Damon's counterpart as the cop inside the mob- both seem to occupy the filial role to Nicholson at times, when DiCaprio isn't being taught all about sacrifice and redemption by Martin Sheen's police captain.
As the above paragraph might indicate, the film is perhaps indicative of how Scorsese doesn't need Paul Schrader to make films that are ever-so-slightly overwrought on the 'morals and masculinity' front. Nevertheless, the taut, suspenseful plotting at least compensates for this, and the action (well, the violence) is done tremendously on both sides of the camera. Ray Winstone, of all people, gets the 'Joe Pesci' role (I'm not sure Scorsese thought we'd believe Pesci as an Irish-American) and does a terrifying job. Balancing up the unstable psychopath quotient on the side of the cops is none other than Marky Mark, who actually gets to have the last laugh for a change.
Okay, that's my dilettante's go at film reviewing. Time for some football.