May 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
– The question, repeated almost incessantly, of what the fuck he’s doing in London – of why he’s chosen to bed down in a city whose vast innards can offer him nothing in the way of a hiding-place, which are becoming more bound, tightened & petrified by the week; where, underemployed & overpoliced, the ‘hardcore’ get by on their wits, their talk, their grace, their graft, their ‘connections’, their low expectations, a city where he still doesn’t know the first thing about possessing these things; a city that would quicken the blood but he finds nothing moving except the wind
– cut/drift /sunless dream/of dissolving architecture // the sun breaks out & the people come out onto the streets as if not knowing what to do w/ it except makes the most of it the couples hand in sweaty hand shorts & skirts & glued-on ray-bans red-faced arguments & throat-tunnel laughter at the high tables outside the Gate Clock & the knowledge that “a town such as London, where a man may wander for hours together without reaching the beginning of the end, without meeting the slightest hint which could lead to the inference that there might be open country beyond” // if space has been conquered the only medium of exploration must be that of time
– The famous insularity of Londoners, for whom the world stops, if not at the Hudson, then perhaps at Deptford Creek. This carries from their pub conversation to their myths, the palimpsest of histories that they found in that Peter Ackroyd book they read last summer – & isn’t he so full of fun facts. Even within these shrunken territories the maps are drawn by forces incomprehensible to those caught in them: the Bermondsey of the estates is not that of the primped denizens of the Design Museum or the Deli de la Tour w/ its dockside stacked bottles of Moet. This is one of the reasons he loves Sans Soleil: not a question of a city & its micro-jingoistic peculiarities, but of the continuity of cities in the vast space of forgetting & its lining (remembering); actually, not continuity (the spectre of monoculture & liberal relativism) but the collective space of the territories’ dispersal, their arrangement in constellations of lived geographies of struggle – Guinea-Bissau/cut/Okinawa/cut/Iceland. Just thus he might say, as he graffitied on March 26, TUNIS/CAIRO/BENGHAZI/LONDON
– the weasel phrase “he who is tired of London is tired of life”: as if no-one could ever be tired of life
– a tunnel on the Woolwich Dockyard estate: a huge drift of paper that makes him think someone has spilled a bucket of white emulsion; a tricycle; a pair of blue 2010 Reeboks in their box, the lid half-off.
– in the dream he is harried by an editor for copy, but their tone is not harrying; rather one of actually what are you doing with that piece enquiry, I’m just disappointed in you maternal harassment. He wakes sweating.
– “after her who/as an engineer/cut it through the author”
May 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
“‘Poverty disgraces no man’. Well and good. But they disgrace the poor man. They do it, and then they console him with the little adage. It is one of those that may once have held good but have long since degenerated. The case is no different with the brutal, ‘If a man does not work, neither shall he eat.’ When there was work that fed a man, there was also poverty that did not disgrace him, if it arose from deformity or other misfortune. But this deprivation, into which millions are born and hundreds of thousands are dragged by impoverishment, does indeed disgrace. Filth and misery grow up around them like walls, the work of invisible hands. And just as a man can endure much in isolation, but feels justifiable shame when his wife sees him bear it or suffers it herself, so he may tolerate much as long as he is alone, and everything as long as he conceals it. But no one may ever make peace with poverty when it falls like a gigantic shadow upon his countrymen and his house. Then he must be alert to every humiliation done to him and so discipline himself that his suffering becomes no longer the downhill road of grief, but the rising path of revolt. But of this there is no hope so long as each blackest, most terrible stroke of fate, daily and even hourly discussed by the press, set forth in all its illusory causes and effects, helps no one uncover the dark powers that hold his life in thrall.”
May 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Careful examination of the relationship of the optics of the myrioramas to the time of the modern, the newest. They must surely be registered as the base coordinates of this world. It is a world of strict discontinuity. The always-again-new is not old stuff that persists, or the reoccurring past, but is rather a one and the same, criss-crossed by countless interruptions. (Just as the gambler lives in the interruption.) Interruption entails that each gaze into space hits upon a new constellation. Interruption the tempo of film. And the result: the time of hell” – Walter Benjamin, ‘Pariser Passagen’, quoted in Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism
The ‘hell’ of which Benjamin writes is that of the factories, slums & prisons of the 19th & early 20th-century metropolis. It is this world that gives rise, first to daguerrotypy (contemporaneous w/ the rise of organised, revolutionary workers’ movements) & then to film. (No coincidence that the Lumiere brothers’ earliest film is of workers leaving their factory in March 1895.) Simon Reynolds, in Retromania, makes a slightly cheap reference to Hipstamatic as a means of giving to present reality the look of yesteryear (b/c we are obsessed even w/ the look of the past). I can’t help thinking that we should give slightly more thought to Instagram (& the transformation of photography more generally) as a ‘way of seeing’, w/ its own historic/social/economic understructure. One is tempted to read Hipstamatic as a kind of visual false consciousness, investing the liquid life of the contemporary w/ the solidity & ‘authenticity’ of the lived world of the late 20th-century. It would be, therefore, not a democratic mode set against the dominant, but secretly at one w/ ‘cultural’ capitalism’s regime of appearances (said regime being its primary contemporary form of production). This partially attractive thesis begs a question. What exactly is it about photographs that people miss? My own encounters with photographs in my parents’ possession, almost all of family members from the 60s until the early 90s, w/ a few stretching back to the 40s, are slightly odd. Studium, punctum, the index, death-in-the-future, certainly, but what I always confront is a basic & primitive fascination with the persistence of (a) time; time that fills the photograph as water fills a fish-tank, time that has now disappeared save in the photograph. For Proust, whose conception of the memory-image was, as Benjamin showed in the great essay on Baudelaire, allied with that of Bergson, the photograph was a technology of horror, a pharmakon to permanently banish temps perdu: consider the passage on the narrator’s grandmother, in wh/ she appears to become a photograph of herself, “sitting on the sofa, beneath the lamp, red-faced, heavy and common, sick, lost in thought, following the lines of a book with eyes that seemed hardly sane, a dejected old woman whom I did not know”. From the unstoppable, fluid onward spillage of time the photograph brings to an absolute standstill a single sliver, only as long as the period of exposure’; its contravention of the Bergsonian dogma of mobility & flow condemns the photograph to become the harbinger of mortality. This seems to me unfair, at least in my encounters w/ working-class photographs. The consistency of this time is strange. It is not the full, present time of lived experience as imagined by neoliberalism, but time suffused with a crackling sense of otherness. This is partly down to the simple fact of the chemical grain of photographs (keep in mind here the Lumieres’ factory). It is not simply that we imagine the time captured by the photograph as better/simpler/more present. Rather, the photograph tells us that time was always already, then, other than what we thought it was. Photographs & film reconstitute the imageworld of Fordism in constellations of dialectical thought. In Benjamin’s myrioramas, as in the translucent reservations of the arcades, the enchanting abundance of the commodity world parades in front of the viewer, “in hellish intensification”. Similarly, food, cats, sunsets, rainbows, faces, dresses (usually flowery), coffees parade through the Instagram stream. There is no intensification, however, each image covered in the same dreary filter. Hipstamatic can be considered as a rather specialised version of the seamless stare that digital photography casts on the contemporary world. In it, the administered world is presented as the limit of what can be thought by itself. It deploys melancholy as the compensation for & acknowledgement of its own insufficiency, an imposed simulacram of chemical flaw, of its ultimate complicity w/ the absurd, disgusting monotony of the world that wage labour creates, its dreams of itself as dismal as the work that it conceals & is created by. There is no loss here: the world of lived experience, as in publicity, becomes an infinite & phantastic parade of petrified satisfactions, to wh/ we must aspire. Instagram is capitalist realism made visible. In this it is what our own period deserves: w/ its financial institutions built over docks & brownfield sites, arts centres, start-ups & consultancy offices crammed into former warehouses, it is, to the inferno of 19th century Paris, something like the asphodel meadows: a world of endless greyness, where the shades of living beings carry out the daily tasks they performed in life, until finally they fade to nothingness.
May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
– On the 188, the Proustian tang of ice-cream flavour lollipops; a memory of how disgusting they were. And yet he’s sure he must have eaten them more than once: why? The papier-mache taste of a childhood chewing anything that was thrust at him.
– The comforting thought that the worst, most compromised, most degraded things about himself, wh/ he forces himself to deal w/, are not – contra the confessional-memoir genre – necessarily the truest.
– The memory of talking w/ her, at the point he was certain things had gone irredeemably pear-shaped, about Benjamin’s Berliner Chronik. He stands by one of these things, not the other.
– Listening to Rolf Julius, the thought that becoming adults consists of our exile from the kind of time this describes.
– He wrote her a postcard, forgot to sign it. Of course she doesn’t recognise his handwriting.
– The reassurance that it gets better/easier; the smallest of all comforts.
– His serial inability to participate in joking, jesting, joshing, companionable teasing, practical jokes w/out a puritan frown. His serial habit of lying.
– It seems to him sometimes his whole adult life, his whole work, has been one long process of experience acquiring afterwardsness.
– Emily Cooke’s essay on loneliness, writing, women’s experience (interesting, in part, for being closer to a blogpost in its inconclusiveness): “Solitude is a problem for writers generally, who spend so much time alone rehearsing a form of ideal communication. And men —as a practical matter — are often worse at being alone than women.” What is the phrase “as a practical matter” supposed to mean? That we’re basically children who need constant reassurance & hand-holding in order to get anything done? (This is of course the secret hiding in most ‘great man’ biographies of Big Male Writers, from Ruskin to Martin Amis. But then it can only be so true, otherwise Roth & Updike would have written far less than they have.) That we willingly spend more time in other people’s company than women? (Given the history of male awkwardness he knows too well, this seems unlikely.) That women are condemned under patriarchy to social competition, forcing them to become more autonomous? (Well, yes, but that seems like an overreading.) The history of his own solitary dorkery begs to differ.
– “comfortable, but not too comfortable”. Yes, he wishes for that too.
– “tell me, o galley-slaves who moil,
from graves and charnel-houses torn,
whose house ye hope to fill? what corn
will crown your long mysterious toil […]
’twill be our fate at last, perhaps,
in lands of loneliness complete,
to dig some rocky counterscarp,
pushing a heavy spade and sharp
beneath our naked bleeding feet”
May 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Difficult to talk now: generally, of course, but also about not speaking, about a silence that turns the speaker hoarse with effort, with dread. The answering machine contains a vast imagined space, an echo-chamber where words are sent between transmission & reception, spooled round & waiting for their feeding through the playback head. To speak to one is to speak into an archive, yr words prepared for the event whose survival will lend them importance. (What Barthes says of the photograph – “I shudder, like Winnicott’s psychotic patient, over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe” – can be re-said of voice-recording technology, but from another angle*.) How many times we’ve heard the greeting, said Hello, & stumbled on realising we’ve mistaken for a live voice the prelude to a tone & recording silence. // The torrent of distorted guitar, given no guidance by percussion until the final minute, has the quality of a monologue, a frustrated attempt to call the other into speech. He knows what it’s like to speak from an area-code w/out hope, to her zone of brilliance.
*For Barthes the traumatic nature of the photograph lies in the presence of the loved body, whose disintegration its reproduced image both masks & signifies. The voice, in spite of Hollywood’s insistence, is less intimately bound up w/ desire: who remembers the exact contours of their lover’s voice? In the street we don’t listen to others’ voices to gauge their attractiveness, we skim them w/ our eyes. (Nonetheless, the moment he realised it wasn’t going to work out was when he knew he couldn’t remember what her voice sounded like.)