Sunday, 27 November 2011

In the Shadow of Blossoming Young Girls

   I've at last reached the end of the first third of A la Recherche, a re-reading project I mentioned way back in April. Marvellous throughout, but interesting to see how Proust saves some of his profoundest reflections on art via the painter Elstir ( ironically offset by the narrator's beautifully-drawn, flirtatious liaisons with Albertine and her friends) for the last few hundred pages of A L'Ombre de Jeunes Filles en Fleur (how did Montcrieff ever get away with calling it 'Within a Budding Grove'?). There' ve been various speculations on which artist Elstir is modelled on, although this passage makes him sound rather Cezanne-like:

The effort made by Elstir to strip himself, when face to face with reality, of every intellectual concept, was all the more admirable in that this man who, before sitting down to paint, made himself deliberately ignorant, forgot, in his honesty of purpose, everything that he knew, since what one knows ceases to exist by itself, had in reality an exceptionally cultivated mind.

  All important literature (and this is the essence of its importance) imprints the reader for a short time at least with its own distinctive rhythms, syntax, perspectives and colourings - a distillation (at some remove) of the author's individual world-view. There are few books this is more true of than Proust's A la Recherche: reading it on the tube each morning and coming out at Liverpool Street during rush-hour felt like a wonderful corrective  - through sheer contrast and opposition - to the chaotic, money-minded, workaday world I was entering.
    It made me consider how Proust's mode of perception - endlessly concatenating, imaginatively generous, evasive about pinning down a thought or impression whose implications are potentially infinite - might be as impossible to sustain in our short-attention-span, quick-fix society as the kind of leisured middle- and upper-class milieu Proust depicts would be impossible now to aspire towards politically or socially.
    To borrow that rare mode of aesthetic perception, however, albeit briefly, can only amount to a beneficial widening of consciousness, a glimpse beyond the dumbed-down, black-and-white reductiveness and desensitisation we are continually, cynically fed.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pithy Prose and Reading RIP

   Delighted to see my sequence of prose-poems posted this week on one of the best UK blogs, Gists and Piths. Thanks, Simon and George.
   On the train home I read in the Evening Standard of the passing-away of Peter Reading - no doubt he would grumble to hear himself elegised in such a Tory rag. He was one of the true originals of post-war British poetry, a quietly rebarbative presence doggedly pursuing his own hard-won, hard-edged style in the face of a dominant flaccidity. As the guy in the ES said, his current neglect among poetry-readers is shameful, yet for a writer who has dwelt so obsessively on his own mortality (later volume-titles include Last Poems, Ob and Vendange Tardive ie. late harvest) his death could perhaps not be described as untimely.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Creep Scanner/Impulse

    Just discovered the compelling music blog Creep Scanner (see Bloglist), notable as much for its acerbic, foulmouthed, misanthropic comments as for the wide-ranging, hard-edged musical choices. I presume the author-name 'Jerry Orbach' is an alias since the American actor of that name (whose photo appears on the 'About Me' area of the blog) died in 2004 and the blog is very prolific (up to 35 entries a month!) and up to date.
     Now I hate shopping as much as the next man but I feel obliged to let you know about an offer I encountered today in HMV. One of the coolest ever labels for interesting jazz, Impulse (the "House that 'Trane Built"), has done a series of 2-for-1 CDs by people like Archie Shepp, Art Blakey, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane and Keith Jarrett which are currently available in HMV on a 2 for £10 deal.
    Four Impulse albums for a tenner - you can't go wrong!

ultimate version

   Found by chance - and with astonishment - the source for one of the most beautiful tracks in the reggae canon, Lee Perry's haunting 'Bird in Hand'. Turns outs it's based on a Bollywood song from 1950 'Milte Hi Ankwen Dil Huwa'.Even within the versioning-friendly sphere of Jamaican music, this strikes me as an extraordinary act of cross-cultural recontextualisation by Perry as producer that's years ahead of its time, turning a Hindi love-song into what I'd always thought was a Rastafarian chant of some kind, joltingly conjoining secular and mystical resonances in a sublime dub soundscape.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Reconstruction of the Fables


Taken at an exhibition called Aesop's Fables by Nicola Hicks at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Two Responses from William Rukeyser

In response to my posting of a Muriel Rukeyser poem last week, I was delighted to receive this email from no less than her son, William:

I saw your recent blog today and thank you for your kind thoughts about my mother.
The good news is that we've actually kept most of her work in print... or brought it back into print. As a matter of fact, recently there were more of her books in print simultaneously than at any time during her life.
Right now there's a really well done Collected which has numerous historical and biographical annotations (U. of Pittsburgh Press) and a slim book of her poems (the Library of America's American Poets Project series) that serves as a good introduction to her work.) Also, her thoughts about poetry, in prose based on her lectures at the California Labor School are in Print in The Life of Poetry (Paris Press)
William L Rukeyser
Davis CA
I replied that the point I was trying to make - no doubt ineptly - was that no UK edition of MR's work is extant. William Rukeyser responded:
My mother was acutely aware of the situation you mention. (There were exceptions, 29 Poems was issued by Rapp and Whiting; Deutsch. Her biography of an Elizabethan scientist and associate of Walter Raleigh was published as The Traces of Thomas Hariot by Victor Gollancz and The Orgy, a thinly disguised memoir about attending Ireland's Puck Fair, was published by Deutsch.) That's it in England as far as I can recall. And all those were a long time ago. She did have a number of staunch friends and advocates in the English literary establishment, but attributed the lack of publication (in addition to editors simply not liking her unique voice) to a general disinclination at that time to print American poets and women. She counted that as two strikes against her.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Root Out Usury

 In the fascinating St Paul's protest that's currently dominating the news, this slogan stuck out for me. Of course it was Christ who - showing his less than meek and gentle side - protested against the money-lenders in the temple at Jerusalem by unceremoniously throwing them out onto the street. The Christian Church's ban on charging interest throughout history ( a proscription also upheld in Islamic law) was the motivation for money-lending to be placed predominantly in the hands of the Jewish community. So it's all the more interesting that the Church is in such conflict over the issue of St Paul's, with some elements at least on the side of the protestors, arguing against their forcible eviction and openly criticising the Mammonites of the banking system.
  But of course the word usury - cast in this demonising light - can only bring to mind Ezra Pound and to me fundamentally begs the question: did Pound really get it so wrong? I'll be the first to admit I know next to nothing about economics but surely the gist of what Pound was saying about usury is broadly similar to what so many are saying now: that it's basically an inethical, exploitative system that creates false social relations ("with usura hath no man a house of good stone") and obstructs the flourishing of a healthy culture which values free thought, public spending and the arts.
   Of course Pound was catastrophically wrong to infer from this some malign cabal of Jewish bankers deliberately undermining Western civilization and no doubt he fell into the Shelleyan fallacy of believing himself an "unacknowledged legislator" and overstating the validity of his own theories - certainly he paid a heavy enough price for this, as we know.
   But he also talked about artists being "the antennae of their race" and considering that he was inveighing against usury and the banking system from the 20s onwards - linking it to the Wall Street Crash, the Depression and both World Wars - when everyone thought he was a tiresome crank to do so, seems startlingly prescient now that it's clear that we have unregulated credit to blame for perhaps the worst economic crisis in history. Perhaps it has taken 80-odd years for the Usura Canto - rhetorically overblown as it may be, but somehow resonant nonetheless - to finally start making sense.