Sunday 30 October 2016

John Hutchinson, The Tree

John Hutchinson's The Tree pauses on note after note that resonates with me. Together they sound a diapason I don't want to forget.  Quietness. Wilderness. Vulnerability. Undifferentiated emptiness. And the ten thousand things that arise spontaneously from emptiness. A healthy wilderness of mind.

We are, as John Hutchinson says, culturally so averse to quiet.

This book is a goodbye to directing a gallery in Dublin and a hallo to whatever form of withdrawal the author might choose, whatever essay in idleness turns out to be his, on whatever mountain top. His last chapter is on Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution.

Maybe John Hutchinson's withdrawal from the gallery will involve the kind of farming that can coexist with the understanding that in this world there is nothing at all.

Well, there is Schubert.

Thursday 27 October 2016

News from Nowhere, William Morris, Road Books

It is one thing to read News from Nowhere on holiday in Portugal, another to read it at home and interrogate your own reading with a view to creating a book. Leonard Cohen could take ten years to write a song. Bob Dylan was closer to ten minutes. We took about two weeks.

My sympathies are with utopia, with nowhere. I can relate to yearning. I am all for idealism. If you can't dream ahead what's the point of walking? As William Morris makes his way up the Thames in his post-Revolution utopian reverie, I can follow.

Conversations about utopia have plenty of brick walls and blind alleys, many a gaping void. It's a question of how long you can suspend disbelief. How much you desire. A question of who you are. For whatever reason. And there are always volumes of reasons.

William Morris's News from Nowhere is poignant in its excess. I want him to describe his ideal society, after the revolution, I lament its unreality. For him in 1890 as for us in 2016.

Out of these thoughts, these considerations, came this book.

Friday 14 October 2016

News from Nowhere in Tavira

News from Nowhere by William Morris, a utopian romance first published in 1890, is a defiant choice of reading for a holiday that starts on a ryanair flight. I am in row one in front of a two year-old screaming No to everything, and beside a plump woman whose breasts quiver as we go through turbulence. On the seat panel in front of us we read instructions for infant flotation devices and emergency landings of several kinds.

I read most of News from Nowhere on the beach in Tavira, sailing between recliners out to the open sea, half Atlantic, half Mediterranean. At home I would listen to a Mozart piano concerto. In creating his utopia, William Morris remembered his childhood in rural Walthamstow Chingford Woodford and Epping, where, in different mode, my earliest years also were spent, all meadow and haymaking and happiness. His, that is. In mine, there were lurking men in Epping Forest; you did not wander there, you read fairy tales, avoiding some, waiting for the penultimate upsurge when you'd be safe. William Morris was safe; or he badly wanted to be. He wanted an epoch of rest in his head, and he placed it in the 21st century.

And here we are in October, 2016, in Portugal, finding our view, getting used to our neighbours, overhearing their conversations. On the beach your neighbours are your society, but you're also going up the Thames with William Morris, from meadow to cottage to harvest, your idealism stretched but not under strain. 'Here I am loving you and you haven't learned a fucking thing', my neighbour (leopardskin bikini bottom and gold hoop earrings) is saying over a mojito and pringles and lover boy.

News from Nowhere comes from Ilha da Tavira, for now, from the beach on the Ria Formosa, sandbank of the gods, a holiday not a utopia. A utopia is when everyone agrees. The water is better far than the water of my childhood, glassy and warm, a caress not a challenge. And lover boy, unchastened, did sing his way back into favour.

My mother's brother Phil, with another chemist friend published Money Must Go in 1943. I have idealism in my veins. What is flowing in your veins isn't yours until you have entirely reconstructed it. Until you have read around it and gone in swimming.

My favourite chapter of News from Nowhere is about nine lines long: Concerning Politics.
Said I: 'How do you manage with politics?'
     Said Hammond, smiling: '…I will answer your question briefly by saying that we are very well off as to politics, —because we have none.'
'We need people like you to remind us what we're working towards,' a politico said to me when I was about twenty-five, which was obscure and warming, kinder than my earlier sense of myself vis-à-vis the Revolution (first in line for the firing squad). Mao's little red book had no poetry. I'd better keep my mouth shut.

Sunday 2 October 2016

1 Fifth Avenue, 1980s

In a New York bar (1 Fifth Avenue) in the early eighties, I met a young Cuban who was looking at his future in Arizona, his lone ecstatic house with a wall of screens so he could watch several films at once, and a machine that would read books for him and tell him what he needed to know. His preferred face—serious, downward, withdrawn, nearly petulant—he produced as needed. This was the face the machine would read to know what he needed to know.

News From Nowhere by William Morris, 1890. Money Must Go: see the world from a new angle by Philoren, 1943. Ruskin, passim. Marx, Blake, Keats, Yeats, Hesiod and Catullus. Kafka, throughout, for his upside down handbook to self-regard in the machine age.

This is what I would like the machine to read off my preferred face today. No pleading notes as yet. Naivete still possible. A cross of beauty, nature, despair and impossibilism. Money Must Go. There are always new angles. Philoren (pseudonym of two chemists) regrets the innocence of earlier idealists. We will always regret lost innocence, but the news from nowhere according to William Morris is full of hope. That's the advantage of literature. Write it and it's yours, for a while.