Wednesday 27 July 2016

Henri Michaux, Tent Posts

Having another language, another landscape and relation of one word to another, a faint impenetrability even when you're fluent, just the edge that language ideally has, being language after all, not life. If it has no edge you know you're drowned.

For just such uncertain observations, Henri Michaux is the thing. One of a number of writers who have remained fresh and testing from day one.
Il faut un obstacle nouveau pour un savoir nouveau. Veille périodiquement à te susciter des obstacles, 
A new obstacle requires new knowledge. See about periodically stirring up obstacles,
In the Green Integer edition of Tent Posts (Poteaux d'angle) of a humid evening, I veer about in french and in english. I would translate it the other way around.
For new knowledge you need a new obstacle. Make sure you stir up obstacles on a regular basis,
Maybe they are one and the same. Between the french and the english I get the gist. Ezra Pound thought poetry should be gists and piths. If you periodically skate between languages, gists and piths are your country and you will get on well with Henri Michaux. And Heraclitus. Lucretius. Short paragraphs that begin and end at the same time. Not so much lapidary as pulmonary. The breath of our attention to our life.
La vie, aussi vite que tu l'utilises, s'écroule, s'en va, longue seulement à qui sait errer, paresser.
Life, as quickly as you use it, melts away, disappears, long only to someone who knows how to drift, loaf. 
You can read any paragraph of Michaux and, if you can take all that syntax, you move on wonderfully in your head. In brittle times you need to keep agile. People are axing people in trains, knifing people, battering and ramming people in their rage. You have to be very agile in your responses. There is no safe place, even when listening to Alfred Brendel play Beethoven, Opus 31 number 2.

Saturday 23 July 2016

Teju Cole

Teju Cole comes into his own as nocturnal reading.

If you want to sleep you don't want too much story or linguistic brinkishness of any kind, you want consequential memories and observations sombrely presented: the ventilation system in the New York subway, a mugging in Morningside Park, your father's funeral in Lagos when you were fourteen, scratchy in ceremonial robes, a freedom that exhausts itself into sentences.

You want to sleep but need to be led there.

Friday 15 July 2016

Teju Cole, Open City

My desk is renewed, cleared and cleaned back to an older self; as if I moved house but the view didn't change.

I've been reading Teju Cole's Open City, a week or two after Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts. I read about both books in magazines (Fence) (New York Review of Books) (New Yorker). I like their literacy, their Wittgenstein their Mahler and their Winnicott, but it is theirs, they remind me I have my own shout to look after my own sentences.

I would have expected to like Teju Cole, with his echoes of Sebald if not Baudelaire and even Walser, more than Maggie Nelson's abrasive account of herself and her partner and her baby. But this old-fashioned summer, mixed, warm in corners, damp some days, desultory then splendid, is nest enough for the abrasive to win.

Teju Cole is embedded in Western culture as much as in his own life. The veiled male. Maggie Nelson is a better Open City—her plainspeak, plainsong—than Teju Cole; and he is more of a wanderer in the manner of the Argonauts. Open City, High Seas, Race, Gender, Embodiment, Embeddedment.

Ireland is under a blight cloud; they should have that on the news. The truck that ploughed through the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Revolution Day; and the blight cloud. Teju Cole in rainstorms in Brussels. Maggie Nelson injecting her partner with T (testosterone). Four new swallows in the woodshed.

Saturday 9 July 2016

Faits Divers, Dailiness, Robert Walser and Clarice Lispector

Robert Walser responding to paintings and faits divers and Clarice Lispector writing out of her own dailiness were published in newspapers and magazines, he in the twenties and thirties in Berlin, she in the sixties and seventies in Brazil. Now that we all do faits divers in all formats all the time, publishing idiosyncratic prose pieces in national newspapers and monthlies isn't an option; even if you put on your prose piece suit, no one will see.

What does Robert Walser see when he inhabits a picture? He speaks as the picture, he enters its lives, empathises with the painter, runs a few possible narratives, anachronisms and suppositions up the flagpole, and then excuses himself.
For hours and days on end he [Cézanne] sought out ways to make the unintelligible the obvious, and to find for things easily understood an inexplicable basis. As time went by, a secret watchfulness settled in his eyes from so much precise circling of contours that became for him edges of a mystery.
Clarice, without mediation of any kind, or medication, for that matter, except the typewriter, reflects on her knowing sensibility.
I daresay this kind of sensibility, which is capable of stirring emotions and making one think even without using the mind, is a gift. And a gift which can be diminished with neglect or perfected if exercised to the full.
Walser, in 'Portrait of a Lady', enters the head of the young lady sitting in a chair and reading, painted by his brother Karl.
In painting the portrait of the young lady, he is also painting her amiable secret reveries, her thoughts and daydreams, her lovely, happy imagination, since, directly above the reader's head, or brain, in a softer, more delicate distance, as though it were the construction of a fantasy, he has painted a green meadow surrounded by a ring of sumptuous chestnut trees and on this meadow, in sweet, sunlit peace, a shepherd lies sprawled, he too appearing to read a book since he has nothing else to do.

Saturday 2 July 2016

Knut Hamsun, Maggie Nelson, Jules et Jim

Knut Hamsun's Victoria and François Truffaut's Jules et Jim, overlaid with Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts and a dash of Baryshnikov as Nijinsky (in review only, malheureusement), this week's cultural sandwich is served on a plate of summer field. A love story and a love story and a love story and another about madness and the rite of spring. Life's dire capacity for loss and misadventure, if not despair, if not theory.

Jules et Jim was the first European film I saw, at the Everyman cinema in Hampstead when I was about 17; here was an early european lightness of being, a fluidity that life up till then conspicuously lacked, with a seductive voiceover, almost languorous matter of fact, unpassionate romantic; in the coy mode of the 1960s Jeanne Moreau says goodnight to Jules and Jim outside a rural hotel, holding the neatly wrapped package of her white pajamas as she is about to découche with Alberto; Oskar Werner's german french, his helpless generosity; two scenes of the three of them going downhill on bikes, the temporary joy of it, the participation thereafter in every downhill run; Jeanne Moreau singing Le Tourbillon, her exact, unaccustomed delivery: she can smile, she can sing, we are captivated.

In the penultimate scene she drives off half a bridge with Jim (pronounced as in english). She's wearing a cloche hat and there's a wicked smile on her face: look at me now, look what I'm going to do next. I was dumbstruck. No one as beautiful and decided as Jeanne Moreau should drive into the river with one of her men; yet why not? I hoped this would all come clear when I went to university.

In the last scene Jules, Oskar Werner, is alone at the funeral of his wife and his friend, which at seventeen probably didn't strike me as strange, particularly as in my family women and children didn't go to funerals; this time I thought maybe the budget didn't stretch to another actress to play the daughter, older, or that verisimilitude would just create visual clutter. I still wonder why a german should have so french a name, and Jim, a frenchman, so english.

Knut Hamsun's Victoria, the first time I read it, seemed a weary trope: impossible love in a pastoral setting; rich girl, poor boy. Give me Hunger and Mysteries, the strangeness that walks the streets, poses in the alps and then drives off a bridge, not this opera of weak chests in rural Norway. This time Victoria was entirely consonant with Hunger, Mysteries and even Maggie Nelson's Argonauts. Am I more generous now? More equal? Ready for a simple tale. Or nostalgic. Life is a walk across an open field. Maybe. Would that.

Romance is not a success in Jules et Jim but friendship is, Jules the german and Jim the frenchman, across the trenches. In Victoria the only winner is poetry; the rich girl dies and the poor boy, the miller's son, becomes a famous poet in the manner of men who write poetry: everything else is impossible or unimportant. Maggie Nelson's Argonauts in the early twenty-first century do not recognize the impossible or the unimportant, rich or poor, yes or no; with the right surgery and injections a woman can become very male indeed; she can write her own vows, on her body or elsewhere, she can have a child in one of a number of ways.

This is not a trope, or a meme, or a hashtag. Birth is always a number of accidents. Act accordingly. Uncage John Cage. Follow Nijinsky's left arm. Mix your influences and gaze across an open field.