November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

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I’ve got a review of So This Is Permanence, the weird book of Ian Curtis’s “gorgeous nothings” in the new issue of The Wire

Some notes to append maybe. My weird exasperation not just w/ the book but w/ the whole posthumous course of Joy Division’s career – even though of course I’ve lapped up the live bootlegs & documentaries just like every other poor punter – isn’t I think a simple question of having “moved on” from the situation (adolescent clinical depression) that made Joy Division – & particularly the individuated psychodrama of Curtis as narrator-subject of the songs – so fixating. In a sense I wonder whether I heard the songs at all then & didn’t just automatically file Curtis alongside others in my personal cult of suicide (see also: Plath, Richey Edwards, Paul Celan. No, really, don’t ask). I must have, though through the thick fog of bleak interpretation w/ wh/ I seemed to cloud everything in those days: I can hardly have heard much beyond the self-exculpating fatalism (“here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders” etc etc), have barely seen the incredible though perhaps unconscious (what does it matter if it was?) artistry involved & the collective work that went into it (by Saville, Hannett, Wilson, Rob Gretton & the chaps at Factory Benelux). Revisiting the work gave me both a better appreciation of all that & of its double ruination. On the one hand, the perfection of the artworks as they stood at the end of the band’s career – the two Factory albums & a handful of singles – was extrapolated into the glassy mystery of myth. One thing I wanted to put in the review but didn’t b/c a) I couldn’t find the citation b) I didn’t want to run into the possibility of libel, was Paul Morley’s assertion in Nothing (iirc) that this process of mythification was consciously driven on by Wilson before Curtis’s body was even cold. On the other hand, looking over the notebooks*, one is returned to a sense of how little there was to Curtis as a writer & a man, how far the flesh-and-blood writer was from the black cypher of myth. Wh/ isn’t to do him down necessarily: it seems important to make clear that the Tory egotist, efficient public servant**, bad Nietzschean***, pompous armchair Jeremiah & intermittently decent father existed in a way that the figure of myth never did. It was the fallible, mortal creature who suffered through illimitable misery into his own death-agonies, not the untouchable marble Endymion of photographs & song. Is it possible then – & this is what I should have asked in the review – to appreciate the body of work w/out buying into the myth? What other frame is there available except that of the suicide narrative w/ all its beautifully embroidered necessity? There’s the wider context of post-punk (wh/ Simon Reynolds jauntily hints at in Rip It Up by suggesting Curtis & Mark E Smith must have passed each other on the morning commute) & the greater political context of the critical shift to neoliberalism in the western hemisphere (wh/ may explain all those Burroughsian invocations of dark continents – the laboratories of monetarism in the early 70s invading the home territory), a line wh/ K-Punk pursues admirably in Ghosts Of My Life. But it nonetheless seems impossible to get away from, not least b/c one wonders at the horrifying possibility that Curtis believed his own myth, looked at the black mirror of the Factory LPs & saw himself, finally Bowie-sized, larger than life****.

* wh/ don’t really deserve the production treatment they get here. Unlike similar recent publications, most obviously Jarman’s sketchbooks, they were obviously used w/out any sense of their aesthetic qualities; nor were they really used as laboratories for ideas – there are surprisingly few lists or non-song fragments or notes in these notebooks.

** another unincluded tangent suggested parallels between Curtis & other successful, long-lived writers w/ dull day jobs: Trollope (postmaster), Eliot (bank clerk, later publishing), Wallace Stevens (insurance clerk)

*** one of the interesting things about the book is the way it shows how limited Curtis’ vaunted reading was: to judge from the paperbacks gathered in the appendix, I’d read more Nietzsche at 17 than Curtis had read in his entire life. Of course, I wasn’t entirely typical of 17-year-olds in this respect, & indeed neither of us would seem to have interpreted Fred very well, to judge by the pessimistic prose fragments in the notebooks. But Deborah Curtis’ remark that Ian spent his evenings “brooding over human suffering” does make me wonder whether the narrowness of his reading – partly an effect of the state of provincial bookshops no doubt, though Leaving The 20th Century must have reached Manchester – wasn’t a hindrance as much as a help

**** the grim final details of his story suggest that Curtis seems to have grasped his own predicament through others’ narratives: not only Rimbaud, who of course lived to become a grumpy old trader, but Stroszek & Iggy Pop.

September 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

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August 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Paul Cezanne, Statue Under Trees, 1895-1900, pencil and watercolour on paper, 48 x 31.2cm

Notebook (light years)

August 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

1977: “My most frequent thought, during the funeral of my brother, is that my thinking is superficial. Any tears I shed are facile. The architecture of the early-eighteenth-century church is splendid. The smell in the vestibule of wood, the heat, and some salt from the nearby sea is, I think, unique to this part of the world and unlocks my memory. The high arched windows with their many lights must make it a cruel place to worship in the winter, but on this splendid summer day they make of the building a frame for the trees and the sky. I do not miss my brother at all. I think that he, with my mother, regarded death as no mystery at all. Life had been mysterious and thrilling, I often heard them say, but death was of no consequence. Some clinician would say that, while I part so easily from my brother, I will, for the rest of my life, seek in other men the love he gave to me. /

Alienation seems to be the word. I feel alienated. This is keen but not painful; no more than a premonition of physical pain, which one has experienced and will again. … At two a fine snow begins to fall. This is the snow that I, as a young skier, literally prayed for. It is very light, but copious; it is the sort of snow that fell on a happy afternoon last year when I skied with P. Night falls; the snow goes on and on – “five inches of powder on a packed base,” one used to read. I shovel the stairs. The snow is like nothing, like air; and yet it holds the light that comes from the windows of the house. My daughter arrives in the middle of the storm after a dangerous journey. I much love her, pray for her happiness, and go to bed in my own bed, where I dream of a love. /

So my hours of happiest comprehension seem limited. They are roughly from six to eight in the morning, and it is now half past nine. For reasons, perhaps, of decorum, comprehension, or dishonesty I recast my dilemma in the light of those days when my brother left for Germany and I lay on the sofa crying for him. The sofa was a ridged, Victorian piece of furniture constructed for straight-backed callers taking a cup of tea. This I remember vividly. I wept for a love that could only bring me narrowness and misery and denial; and how passionately I wept. And so I weep again (not really), and go out for dinner looking, really, for nothing but company and warm food.”

Notebook (Querelle)

August 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

1966: “As I wait for the train, a youth in tight white pants sets off the usual alarm signals, but then I notice that he wears the jacket of a school where I am known, where indeed one of my dogs lives. I ask after my friends on the faculty, ask after my dog, and the air between us is pristine and cheerful. It is facelessness that seems to threaten one, strangeness, a sort of erotic darkness, an ignorance of each other, except for the knowledge of sexual desire; but standing in a public urinal and being solicited by a faceless stranger one senses some definite promise of understanding oneself and of understanding death, as if the natural and sensible strictures of society, raised in the light of day, were too heavy a burden for our instincts and left them with no immunity to the infections of anxiety and in particular the fear of death. Run, run, run ballocksy through the woods, put it in the brushes of nymphs and up the hairy bums of satyrs and you will know yourself and no longer fear death; but why, then, do the satyrs have an idiotic leer? To have the good fortune to love what is seemly and what the world counsels one to love, and to be loved in return, is a lighter destiny than to court a sailor in Port-au-Prince who will pick your pockets, wring your neck and leave you dead in a gutter.”

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