There are so many things in life that should be but are not - if that makes sense. In other words, they are not in life at all, but we are aware of them because we have imagination, or perhaps we are aware of them for other reasons. In this blog post, about the writing of Brendan Connell, I quoted G.K. Chesterton:
Men spoke much in my boyhood of restricted or ruined men of genius: and it was common to say that many a man was a Great Might-Have-Been. To me it is a more solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not-Have-Been.
Recently, I am trying to see things more in this way.
I'm actually bone-tired at present, so please forgive me if I fail to be effervescent, as I should be.
When I was at FantasyCon in Brighton this year, behind the Chomu Press stall, I got talking to a man who said he was a fan of fantasy fiction. "Someone has to be," he said, and I agreed, as this seemed a sound proposition. I hope, if he ever reads this, he doesn't mind me saying a little about our conversation.
I asked him who his favourite fantasy writer was. He protested, with justice, that it was a ridiculous question, though he made a valiant attempt at answering, giving a number of names. He asked me, in return, rhetorically, "What's your favourite song?", meaning, of course, that my question was similarly difficult to answer. However, I answered: "'Bewlay Brothers' by David Bowie."
"Ah," he said, "David Bowie ruined my life."
I thought at first this was going to be a fan story, a story of obsession taken too far, but it was nothing like that. He gave a succinct and convincing account of why he could justifiably make the claim that he had. There had been a publishing concern in which he was involved. An investment from David Bowie was promised, which would have ensured its future, but Bowie pulled out at the last minute because someone had advised him that there was no money in books.
"'David Bowie ruined my life' - sounds like a blog post," he said. "No... maybe not. Couldn't handle the law suit."
For the purposes of this blog post, of course, we must take the above as hearsay. Even so, these days I'm less inclined to the hero-worship of my younger years, and so the story didn't come to me as quite the shocking, difficult thing it might have at the height of my fandom. I don't know how I never understood, when I was younger, that there was no need for me to be jealous of Bowie's talent. I no longer feel wistful wondering if Bowie will ever make good music again. There are other people in the world, and other artists, more interesting, more consistent, not selling out, keeping on, even without the adulation, the money, the advantages enjoyed by the likes of Bowie.
Just today I was wondering whether, actually, my favourite song, if it's possible to have such a thing, might not be 'Lovely Tree' by Momus. It's not on YouTube like the 'Robin Hood' song above. If you want to hear it, why not buy the Oskar Tennis Champion CD? After all, it's not every song that can claim to be my favourite. Here's a link to the lyrics.
Now, here's a guy who's just kept going and doing his own thing, on and on, despite no mainstream success - Momus, I mean. Some people have remarkable creative staying power. Jeremy Reed is another such - truly a unique artist whose energy and inspiration have remained undimmed despite the almost deafening silence of the literary establishment.
You know, there are many people who, in carrying on in their own way, in determinedly being who they are, make it easier for me to carry on in my own way, too (which, let's face it, can be really, really hard sometimes). I want to mention some of these people now. I've mentioned some of the following on my blog before. But they cannot be mentioned too often. Some of them I have met. Some of them I have not. (And there are plenty of others who have also made a real difference, but here I will mention only a few, and I hope I don't embarrass anyone.)
Mark Samuels - a sane man, a gent, and a wonderful writer. His work is a haven from the vicious superficiality of our age. Dare Wright - there are in the world some things that are sacred, and the work of Dare Wright is among these things. Justin Isis - stops this world from being boring and is possibly the galaxy's best dressed criminal. Joe Campbell - artist, musician, has a tremendous pope-like quality, general cool guy and now also half of the Chomu Radio Archive. Dominika Kieruzel, who is also a wonderful artist and who forced me to sing 'Jerusalem' by William Blake once, and is now working with me on this. Brendan Connell - nobody yet actually comprehends how good Brendan Connell is as a writer. No one yet understands. Sasa Zoric Combe (of Kodagain) - early on in my acquaintance with Sasa and his music Justin commented that Sasa was like some kind of superhuman, who could take anything, put it in a song and make it sound great, and it's true.
Of course there are many others. Let me restrict myself for now, and I hope that we do actually get the time and opportunity to make more 'should-be's into reality, and that we don't always have to struggle to apply the point of view offered by Chesterton that what is is startling enough.
Keep, lovely tree, your leaves in wintertime Stand strongly in your bark of love Make shelter for the lion and the lamb Keep every tender beast safe from the butcher's knife
A very quick survey of the message boards of pop music fan sites gives the impression that fans of pop music are not very sophisticated. To me.
You can check this out for yourself, but what I mean is, for instance, they will tend to believe that anyone who likes The Smiths but eats meat is a hypocrite, and they believe that all the words to any song express the literal and unbending views of the person singing. It's fine that people are unsophisticated. I'm not especially having a dig. After all, at least in terms of pop music, I think it probably hasn't arisen out of any great culture of sophistication, and those who want sophistication can always go elsewhere. It is difficult, however, for pop musicians who do have reasonably sophisticated sensibilities. These people are caught in between, not quite taken seriously as artists by the institutions appointed to say whether things are serious or not, and often regarded with suspicion as pretentious by those people in a spiritual position to take an illigitimate art form like pop music seriously.
What pop music audiences tend (it is only a tendency, not an absolute) to lack is a sense that creativity can include things like irony, playing devil's advocate, the adoption of a persona, and so on. Perhaps I can best sum this up by saying that in the world of pop fandom, no one has much of an idea what an unreliable narrator is.
On February the 10th of this year, Momus wrote his last blog post, bringing his blog, Click Opera, formally to an end. I had a quick check of the last post just now, but couldn't find the quote I was looking for. Momus anticipated the end of his blog, let us know in advance, and gave various reasons, some of which were not covered in the post I've just linked to. If I recall correctly, one of the reasons was that it's not an artist's job to be reasonable, but that the way blogs are set up, as a discussion with comments from any who wish to make them, militates against the unreasonableness that is often the very source of an artist's creativity and interest. This struck me at the time, and I have thought about it intermittently since then.
I also link this idea to a quote I've heard attributed to Beethoven: "In life, democracy; in art, dictatorship." And I link it in some way to this blog post, by M. John Harrison, though as yet the links here are vague in my mind. Well, at least one link is clear. The "flabby absorptivity" that Harrison talks about seems to describe well what Momus suggests a blog does to an artist.
You may have got by now an idea of the direction in which I'm going; you may have got the wrong idea. I've actually been very lucky with this blog, and I am not complaining. There have been few trolls (though they have not been absent), and those people beside the trolls who have disagreed with me have done so in a very engaging and level-headed way. Nonetheless, among the many reasons why I wonder if it was a mistake for me to start this blog is a sense that I may have been corroded by the need for reasonableness
Oh, I'm not saying that this blog is great art, or anything lofty like that, either. But the fact is that possibly the most significant activity in my life (depending on how one measures or assesses such things) is the writing of fiction, which may be seen as an art. My recent attempt to write a novel in a month convinced me that I must use a different part of my brain when writing fiction than I do when writing an e-mail or blog-post, since I was quite unable to think creatively when facing a computer screen and had to revert to my usual style of writing with pen and paper. Nonetheless, I write this blog with the sensibilities of someone who thinks best when writing fiction. Irony, persona, devil's advocacy, and numerous nameless but related sensibilities are all vital to my thought processes - let us just say, the idea of an unreliable narrator.
I'll give an example of the kind of quandary I sometimes find myself in. A while back I wrote a very brief post in which I claimed to be the reincarnation of U.G. Krishnamurti. I had a couple of light-hearted replies. Then there was a gap. Then there was an anonymous, one-word comment: "Bullshit." I sighed at the utter tiresomeness. There are several options available to me in this case, including simply ignoring the comment, but partly out of politeness, and partly shamefully drawn in to the reactivity that made the commenter comment, I made a reply. Since I had originally posted that entry in order to see how the dead soul of U.G. Krishnamurti would react, I thought it would be appropriate to take this as U.G.'s response, hence, "Hello UG." Then I thought that the person wouldn't understand what I was on about - which he/she/it probably would not have understood with any amount of explanation anyway - so I added something less esoteric (to my shame) and advised him/her/it to go in search of a sense of humour. But this - while not entirely inappropriate - was a cop-out, really, let's face it. I have lowered myself to the literal mindset.
I honestly do not understand the psychology behind the comment. I mean - it's probably not important, but I see this as an example of a type that is interesting in that I notice its intrusion in my life quite often. If I try to put myself in the place of the anonymous person, there is no way I would react in this way. I do not go around the world looking for things on which to pronounce the verdict, "Bullshit." I wonder why some people do. I suppose it must be to do with some childhood trauma of being lied to or something. In any case, I wonder what such people would say in the presence of Sun Ra as he describes his trip to Saturn:
… my whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn't in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn … they teleported me and I was down on [a] stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That's what they told me.
Presumably the laconic response to this would also be, "Bullshit." I can't imagine even wanting to make that response. If I was secure in my surroundings at the time, I would be much more likely to say, "So, what's it like on Saturn?"
Sun Ra probably did, in fact, take a lot of shit for this kind of thing - I don't know. But in terms of contributions to the world, between some anonymous (or even named) person saying, "Bullshit", and Sun Ra, I would take Sun Ra any day. The exclamation "Bullshit" adds nothing to the world. Sun Ra does.
If Sun Ra were a blog, you can imagine the kind of comments he'd get. But you don't even have to use Sun Ra as an example. Think of, say... the Marquis de Sade. If Philosophy in the Bedroom were a blog, there would be some whining, gormless gimp, saying, "I don't get it. Do you mean this literally, or are you just fucking around? How would you like it if someone did all this stuff to your daughter or mother?" You know, really the examples are endless...
Part of the power of a piece of art is that someone has been allowed to say exactly what they want for once without being reasonable. Part of the power is that something is self-contained and doesn't have answers and rebuttals scrawled underneath it. It just is, and within the world it has created for itself, it is gloriously unanswerable. If people want to answer it, they can go and create their own piece of unanswerable art, but at least they cannot invade the sovereignty of the art itself. That glorious unanswerability, it seems to me, has much in common with a word from philosophy: Aporia. That a work of art is sealed into itself is a kind of eternal inconclusiveness with the power of conclusion. The artist must know that questions and apparent answers will swarm around the work of art like moths around a lamp, but they will never extinguish that light.
I think that one reason I haven't been writing much on my blog recently is that I'm tired of being reasonable, but at the same time I know that a blog is not the best place to be artistically unreasonable, and I'm not interested in any other kind of unreasonable. But another reason is that I've just been incredibly busy and will continue to be.
Sorry there are some comments lately that I haven't answered. This is also partly because I've been very busy, and not because I am holding back a desire to be unreasonable. There's also the fact I can't think of anything witty or interesting to say to some of them. Not that that's ever stopped me in the past. Etc.
Momus' new album, Hypnoprism, has been available for some time as digipak CD and YouTube playlist. On his website, Momus explains:
The "hypnoprism" of the title is YouTube, a sort of hypnotic musical prism, the source of much of the inspiration for this album, and even some of the sounds. Hypnotised by watching his favourite music videos on YouTube, Momus made songs aspiring to the same qualities -- that mysterious catnip which makes you want to play a pop song over and over, and commit it to memory -- then immediately made videos for them and posted them.
Since I seem to be doing nothing but posting YouTube clips recently, I thought I'd actually compile my own hypnoprism of pop video catnip. I might repeat myself by including ones I've already posted (after all, isn't that part of the point?) with some of them, but I'll try and make sure that as many of them as possible contain moving images, and I'll try to choose 13, as there are 13 songs in Momus' Hypnoprism. I hope people will feel able to come back to this list while I am absent doing boring busy things, as I will probably increasingly be in the days and years ahead. Thank you.
Edit: Okay, I'm going to be confusing and add bits to this post at later times without regard to the logical sequence of the text. It's just occurred to me that there are hardly any songs below that I haven't posted before. That's fine, because it means they really are favourites of mine, but I suppose it might be tedious for those who've been reading my blog for a while, assuming that such exist, etc., so I thought I'd at least make this different by adding some comments to each clip. Also, I think I might try to compile another hypnoprism (which phrase should now be copyright to Momus), with completely new catnip songs, as in, new to me. I think I might have got a start on that earlier today. Anyhow...
Laurel and Hardy have, I suspect, saved my sanity on at least one occasion, and my suggestion for those who are teetering on the brink is to watch a Laurel and Hardy film. This clip is - to me at least - evidence that there has always been sex in cinema. It's not recent. The silver screen itself seems sexual, especially in the black and white days when actors appeared as incandescent ghosts, fickering emblems of desire. So, much as I disapprove, I think of Cinema Paradiso and it seems that what cinema has most notably bequeathed the world is the screen kiss. Tarantino insists that cinema was made for violence... Maybe, but increasingly I find Tarantino to be loud and boring.
In The Black Album, by Hanif Kureishi, one of the characters, about to masturbate, muses that pornography is like religion in that the effect is spoilt by humour. The truth of this observation is to be found in the 'sultry' looks of the models. 'Sultry', like 'macho' is laughable because it is serious.
And yet, this can't be the whole truth. Comedy and sex go together, don't they? (I imagine Woody Allen thinks so.) Maybe comedy marks a kind of third way between pornographic slavery and po-faced prudery. I don't actually know - it's just a wild stab in the dark.
Incidentally, I noticed a linguistic reference in the lyrics of this song that I have only previously known in Japanese. There is in Japanese a phrase obviously taken from English, "sutairu ga ii" - literally, "good style". For some reason, this refers to having a good figure. I thought it a rather odd expression, but notice that when the fella above sings, "Where did you get that style?" he is outlining the dancer's figure with his hands. Co-incidence? I wonder.
This is possibly my favourite YouTube clip of all time. Annette's face at about the point where she's singing (or miming to), "He's my mountain/He's my tree", defines 'winsome'. I 'shared' this clip with a friend a while back, through the medium of the Internet, and he commented, "You certainly have a penchant for the grotesque." I felt that, at last, someone had partially understood me.
From the pre-CGI age, when all that could be used for special effects were selotape, mirrors, sugar paper and vaseline, comes possibly the best pop video (and song) ever. I love everything about this. I love her tails, her coat, her ravishing seventies pallor, the skipping, erratic melody, the insistent bubblegum-pop rhythm, the pretentious DIY arthouse imagery spliced in here and there, the bald guitar guy, the ending in the tunnel, the pop-star-performing-to-a-mirror closing shot of Lene herself and her twisting V-sign. I could watch this all day if I were allowed to.
Ai Kago and Tsuji Nozomi dance like the hyperactive wind-up toys they are pretending to be. Garishly childish cabaret, with an insanely catchy chorus. The central pun of the chorus is also quite ingenious. "Suki" ('love' or 'like') slips seamlessly into "kisu" ('kiss'): "sukisukisukisu" etc. I'm not actually a big fan of J-pop, though some people might imagine that I am. When I was living in Japan I felt that most of it was a bloated, soulless mix of New Romantic and AOR. Occasionally I would hear something I liked on the radio and - hauntingly - find that I was unable to track it down. Does anyone out there know who did a song called, Akiramemasho? I think it was on the Kohaku competition at the end of 2002. I even heard an interesting song in a car show room once, but was too shy to ask what the music was they were playing.
What is generally called 'rhythm and blues' these days, but which seems to have almost nothing to do with what was originally called 'rhythm and blues' consists largely of people showcasing wanky saccharine warbling up and down scales as a kind of stand in for emotional expression. I'm not a musical taxonomist, and perhaps the comparison is not appropriate, but it seems to me that all of those contemporary 'R&B' artists I've heard lack the class and power as singers of this 13 (or 14?)-year-old doo-wop soprano.
When I first heard this song, or when I second heard it, I imagined the group was kind of manufactured as one of those 'make black music sugary and palatable to white people' kind of projects. I guessed that the implicit Christian message was imposed: "Let's get a juvenile to preach to other juveniles, as he'll have more credibility to them than we do." However, I don't actually know if this is the case, and it could be that the song was entirely the idea of Frankie Lymon and the band. In any case, it has a peculiar resonance to it that I can't explain. "It's easy to be good/It's hard to be bad". Is this ironic? Is it merely vapid? It doesn't seem quite either. There is something weirdly genuine about this.
Frankie Lymon, it seems, classier as a singer than the manufactured popular singers of our time, was also possibly further in private from the clean image of this song. At the age of ten - apparently - he supplemented his wages as a grocery boy by hustling prostitutes. At 25 he died of a heroin overdose.
To me this feels almost like the archetypal pop song.
This song has a kind of rockabilly feel to it. I have a passing interest in rockabilly. I think that I am attracted to rockabilly in the same way that I am attracted to evil. Rockabilly seems in many ways the embodiment of evil. It is wild and conservative at the same time. I probably haven't explained that at all well. It's an angular music, anyway. Long flowing hair seems out of keeping with it. I imagine some weird inverted code of 'good' among rockabilly ranks that applies only to insiders. My very vague but lasting interest in rockabilly probably began when I heard the psychobilly band The Meteors when I was very young. The world of rockabilly seems an entirely closed world, like that depicted in Lovecraft's 'The Picture in the House'.
Messer Chups are apparently an experimental band, but there is still a whiff of this feel to them (and the title does have the word 'Satan' in it). Notice the B-movie aesthetic, too. I'm also reminded of Dave Stevens' Rocketeer picture based on Bettie Page.
I'm not sure I can really describe how this song affects me. In a way, it's a very corny, sincere kind of acoustic-guitar love song with a 'sensitive' yet rock'n'roll ethos to it. Nonetheless, it seems to have attained perfection somehow, and I just can't see the strings. I imagine this really is what it's like to be sincerely in love at the age of 13, taking everything very seriously, tremulous with uncertainty, ready to be heroic if necessary, idealistic, etc. "Rock'n'roll is here to stay/Come inside now, it's okay/And I'll shake you." No wonder her dad is 'on his back'.
Although this is a song in some ways about gentle joy, it has an 'unbearable lightness of being' feeling about it that just makes me want to slit my wrists. It's all just unbearable really. You know it's going to end in tears, and nothing will ever, ever be the same again. Will it?
If the previous song is what love feels like when you're 13, I suppose this must be what love is like when you're an adult, if there is such a thing as love when you're an adult. I've heard it said - or perhaps I'm making it up - that music is the most subjective of all the arts, and perhaps this is true, because often the songs I like the most are those I can say least about. I'm not sure really how to describe what this song does for me, and I probably shouldn't even if I could. I can make some incidental remarks, however, that the video, by Vladimir Ristic, seems to fit the mood of the song perfectly (which is something very few music videos seem to manage), that Sasa Zoric Combe is the god of harmonies, and that Kodagain must be the most underrated band on the planet. It was hard choosing one Kodagain video for this list, but I made myself a rule not to use more than one video per artist.
It would hardly be fair if I stole Momus' word (Hypnoprism) and didn't include a Momus song. This song comes from what is possibly my favourite Momus album, Oskar Tennis Champion. There is a sequence of five songs on that album, starting with Beowulf that I find particularly enchanting in a Narnia-land-of-eternal-winter kind of way. Most of my favourite Momus songs are not on YouTube. For instance, in the sequence of songs I mention, I think that perhaps my favourite is Lovely Tree, which has the gorgeously melancholy lines:
Last night I wandered in a wasteland
I was abandoned to the snow
You came through forests thick with tangled undergrowth
With chicken soup, a Twix bar and some winter clothes
I could have chosen Ventriloquists and Dolls for this hypnoprism, but I suppose what swung it for me was the Beowulf video of clips from the film The Golem. Beowulf is a great song, anyway. It has on occasion made the nape of my neck prickle. Momus must know it's good, too, because every live show I've seen of his, but one, before the song was released, he has played this song. I don't really know what it's about, but it feels right, somehow. Also, it has the line "I am deformed" in it, which appeals to me. As well as appealed to because I indentify with the feeling, I can't help thinking it's like a line out of a porn film: "Oh my God, you're... deformed!" That kind of thing. I'm sure this is deliberate.
I've just found this link about Kelli Ali's teeth. Someone there says something about her trying to be Bjork, too, which seems ridiculous. In what way, that she's female and sings? Anyway, I find Kelli Ali's teeth threatening. But in a good way.
I actually think that people generally have the wrong idea about acid, and that this video is what it really feels like. From what I've read.
I'm going to seem to contradict something I said before on this blog post, by saying that sexual content only really began in pop videos in the nineties. This is not really true, but the nineties was kind of when they started to bring on the dancing girls. And not just any dancing girls, but air-brushed lap-dancing girls. And since then it's become more or less obligatory for all pop videos to be shot on the premises of Spearmint Rhino.
Sugar is used as an additive in all kinds of food, now, even of the most unlikely sort, like baked beans, for instance. The same goes with air-brushed cage-dancers in pop music videos now. Honestly, I'm not a prude, but despite my low opinion of the pop video as an artform, when you look at the pop video before the nineties and after, it's almost an argument on its own that art and pornography aren't actually the same thing. Sugar is an addictive ingredient, but doesn't necessarily make the food satisfying. The same goes for... well, you can finish the sentence. Honestly, even indie guitar bands like Franz Ferdinand do it now. It was not thus, with upskirt shots and bending scantily clad girls that Bowie revolutionised the adolescence of so many.
Spin Spin Sugar, appropriately has just enough of this nasty additive; it's there, but it's not overdone. It is in harmony with the song and does not overpower the song. It's a balance that not many seem to achieve. I suppose mostly that pop artists don't have enough faith in their own songs any more to be able to say no to the GQ girls.
I haven't been keeping track of the days. I thought today was Thursday, but I'm informed that it's Friday.
I thought it was a couple of days ago I composed a haiku in my head, looking out the kitchen window at the garden, but it might have been longer. I think it was July that, looking out at the same view, I composed another haiku, which I meant to write down, but didn't. The July haiku went something like this:
To say that there is Honeysuckle by the door Is only the truth.
The September haiku went like this:
Rain. Wind shakes the web. At first I miss the spider - There, under a leaf.
I think it was on the same day I composed this latter haiku that I listened again to the album Ocky Milk by Momus. I think it might be his strongest album of this century so far.
Momus is known as being a 'fake' artist, in that he favours Brechtian distancing, often writes musical pastiches, is suspicious of what he calls "rockism", which is characterised by the Romantic emphasis on authenticity, etc.
However, listening to Ocky Milk, I felt again what I have felt before, that there is at least one sense in which 'fake' doesn't cover his creative output. I think my favourite songs by Momus are all characterised by an autumnal or sometimes even wintry mood - 'Beowulf', 'Lovely Tree' and others. Ocky Milk has its share of these, and the best of them all, for me, is 'Zanzibar'.
When I say autumnal, I have in mind a particular feeling that has haunted me all my life. Wistfulness comes close, but, perhaps only in phonetics, perhaps also in other ways, sounds a little too close to 'whimsicality'. What I'm talking about is something deeper.
It was only quite recently - this year, I think - that I learned a word I wish I'd known a long time ago. That word is 'sehnsucht'.
It's a German word and apparently untranslatable. Therefore, I may be using it inappropriately to fit a feeling of my own for which there are no words. However, in support of my intuition, I strongly associate the feeling I have with children's stories such as those written by C.S. Lewis, and I find that the word 'sehnsucht' had particular resonance for Lewis. Of sehnsucht, he wrote that it is:
That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
We live in an age when people try to film ghosts on popular television shows. No self-respecting ghost would appear on Britain's Most Haunted.
Perhaps the word 'sehnsucht' should not even exist. Perhaps I should not even have written this.
I will publish this, but I am sure I will feel ashamed.
Let's just say I'm a fake, and pretend there's nothing more to it.
I can't find the rebuttal to which it is a rebuttal, but I found this blog post curiously compelling.
I say 'curiously' perhaps because I find both sides compelling. If the question is something like 'to be or not to be', then it is that question that is involving here, and I don't feel at the moment the need to add anything to what I have already said regarding the question elsewhere and at other times.
Momus, no longer blogging, is, nonetheless, still with us. Here's a new song:
I know that some deny there's such a thing as a zeitgeist, but I can't help thinking that the statement 'death ruins everything' touches on a mood that is... prevalent.
In my bedroom.
And possibly other parts of the world.
There's a man in that video who reminds me somewhat of Kawabata Yasunari. There is a photograph of Kawabata that I very much like, but I can't find it on the Internet. This one will have to do:
In the photograph of which I am thinking, Kawabata is kneeling on the floor in a dark-coloured kimono. He is thin, and his hair is spiky. He looks like a skeleton with bright, deep eyes. I seem to remember - perhaps someone will correct me - that after he was orphaned, Kawabata was brought up by his blind grandfather. Because his grandfather was blind, Kawabata became accustomed to staring at his face, simply staring, and not averting his eyes, and this formed a habit of staring at faces that people were to find disconcerting when Kawabata grew older.
Before his suicide - again, if I remember correctly - Kawabata claimed that he had been visited by Mishima's ghost.
Someone, I believe, referred to Kawabata as 'the eternal traveller'. Was it Mishima? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
I am reminded of the beginning of Matsuo Basho's Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior):
The days and months are eternal wayfarers, and the passing years are travellers, too. Those who float their lifetime on the planks of a boat, or go forward to greet old age leading a horse by the bit, making their days a journey, make of the journey their home. Many are the great ones of old who have died on the road. I, also, from before I can remember, have been lured by the winds that scatter clouds, unable to suppress the yen for wandering...
There is a tone of universality to this passage, as if it is not written by an individual at all. Discussing it with someone whose mother tongue was Japanese, I was told that you can tell from this opening that the author is a very depressed person. At first I thought I was puzzled by this statement, but then it seemed to me that I knew exactly what it meant.
I retrieved some belongings from Wales recently, among them a bilingual copy of Kawabata Yasunari's speech made on the occasion of his winning the Nobel Prize for his novel Snow Country. From Edward Seidensticker's translation:
The Zen disciple sits for long hours silent and motionless, with his eyes closed. Presently he enters a state of impassivity, free from all ideas and all thoughts. He departs from the self and enters the realm of nothingness. This is not the nothingness or emptiness of the West. It is rather the reverse, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless.
The same message is restated at the end of the speech:
My own works have been described as works of emptiness, but it is not to be taken for the nihilism of the West
I notice that more Momus songs are now up on YouTube. This is one of my favourite Momus songs (I believe it was an 'extra track' on Circus Maximus):
If you enjoy the song, maybe you'll see your way to buying an album or two.
Sorry I have been slow to answer comments recently. I'll catch up.
I can't find the quote online, but if I can trust my memory, it was from a V.S. Naipaul interview. The author was asked how he thought the situation in the Middle East would end, and he said that it would end with "victory for one side and defeat for the other". The interviewer thought this sounded a bit harsh, to which Naipaul replied that he was not condoning the situation, that was simply what he saw.
With the ascent of Obama to office, perhaps the world begins to look different. After all, the closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo seems a symbolic and practical step towards dismantling entrenched mechanisms of war. However, it is probably still too early to become complacent in one's hope. In London Review of Books, David Bromwich has the following to say:
To judge by the nomination of Hilary Clinton as secretary of state and the likely nomination of Dennis Ross as Middle East envoy, Obama wants to be seen as someone who intends no major change of course. In a televised interview on 11 January, he said he would deal with Israel and Palestine in the manner of the Clinton and Bush administrations. The unhappy message of his recent utterances has been reconciliation without truth; and reconciliation, above all, for Americans. This preference for bringing-together over bringing-to-light is a trait of Obama's political character we are only now coming to see the extent of. It is an element - until lately an unperceived element - of a certain native moderation of temper that is likely to mark his presidency. Yet his silence on Gaza has been startling, even immoderate.
The implication of this passage is that Obama might believe peace possible only through chloroforming the truth. When both or all sides are allowed a voice, according to such a belief, conflict is inevitable. If Obama does, in fact, believe such a thing, then it might be hard to blame him. Historically, almost any kind of difference has been enough to inflame human insecurity to a murderous degree. To pluck one random example from history, Galileo expressed an opinion (now generally accepted as fact) that differed from many of those around him, and was put on trial and forced to recant - in this case the peace being enforced by chloroform.
Such controversies continue. For instance, not long ago. Michel Houellebecq was put on trial for calling Islam "the dumbest religion".
From the article linked to:
The controversial writer is being sued by four Islamic organisations over his comments about his book, Platform, in an interview last year with the literary magazine Lire.
The novel is also cited in the case being brought by the largest mosques in Paris and Lyon, the National Federation of French Muslims (FNMN) and the World Islamic League.
France's Human Rights League has also joined them, saying that Mr Houellebecq's comments amount to "Islamophobia".
The case has become a cause celebre, which, like the Salman Rushdie affair in the UK, raises questions about the appropriate limits, if any, to be placed on freedom of expression.
"I have never displayed the least contempt for Muslims," he said, but added, "I have as much contempt as ever for Islam".
This seems to be a retort of admirable clarity. There are, of course, differences between Galileo's trial and that of Houellebecq, but there is at least one very worrying similarity.
Mr Houellebecq's lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, argues that the case effectively re-establishes the notion of blasphemy, despite the fact that France is a secular state and has no such law.
Had he been found guilty, Houellebecq would have faced "up to a year in prison and a 52,000 euro fine".
Fortunately - I have no qualms in saying that - the suit was eventually dismissed.
Is war inevitable? Is the only way to peace to choloroform into silence the voices on one side?
The monk led him back through the forest of silver towers, to a clearing where he found the little man standing. He was looking at a sculpture resting on a pedestal. It was fashioned in the shape of a young woman, and at its base was a tiny slot with two metal switches. The little man depressed one switch, then the other, then flipped both.
"Well, what does it do?" Richard Dawkins said.
The little man closed his palm and brought it away from the sculpture, then offered it to Richard Dawkins, who held out his own hand. After a moment he felt something slippery and cold. He looked down. A little golden cube sparkled in the reflected light of the towers. As he watched, it melted in the palm of his hand. He held it to his lips and received a faint taste of cinnamon.
"It provides ice cubes," the little man said. "Some of the ice cubes are gold and others are silver, and others are gold and silver at the same time."
"You mean they're mixed. Their colors are mixed."
"No, that would be absurd. The combined cubes are both gold and silver at the same time."
"But the properties," Richard Dawkins said, "The properties are complementary. The gold and silver mix together."
The little man took another cube from the sculpture and popped it into his mouth.
"Ridiculous! Nothing in the world can be complementary. The gold and silver cubes are both exclusively gold and exclusively silver at the same time. Everything is exactly itself and nothing else. The quality of qualities is that they do not merge!"
"But that's impossible," Richard Dawkins said. "Black can't very well be white now, can it?"
"Can't it? Can't it?" the little man was fairly screaming now. "You might just as soon deny that anything exists at all!"
Then, composing himself, he walked away from the sculpture and stood very straight, facing Richard Dawkins.
"Look here Dawkins, you think I am mistaken, and I think you are mistaken. There's nothing left for us to do except fight to the death."
"I think that's overstating the case somewhat," Richard Dawkins said. "Surely we could agree to disagree?"
"Impossible," said the little man. He signalled, and one of the monks walked over, carrying a tray. On it were a number of rubber bands.
"Choose your weapon, Dawkins," said the little man, taking a thin old band of red elastic. He drew it back and aimed it at Richard Dawkins, who had chosen a thicker green band. The two of them moved several feet apart.
"On your mark," intoned the monk. "Get set...go."
The red elastic band zipped past Richard Dawkins' head. Richard Dawkins feinted to the side, then fired the green band at the little man, striking him in the chest. The little man collapsed to the sand.
"You've killed him," the monk said. "You've won."
Several of the other monks descended on the little man and helped him to his feet. He walked to the other side of Richard Dawkins. Then, without a word he took off his shoes. The monks handed him a box tied with a red lace thread.
"Now you must wear the shoes that can never be removed." one of them said.
The little man accepted the box, glared at Richard Dawkins with a look of immortal hatred, and set off back through the desert.
It struck me as very 'true' metaphysically, that as far as pure ideas are concerned, there is nothing to do but fight to the death. It is also interesting that, in this story, the death incurred is not necessarily literal, fatal death, or meaningful at all, but still results in "immortal hatred".
Indeed, Dawkins makes a bold attack on tolerance as it is manifested in society’s permitting people to rear their children in their own religious traditions. He turns an especially cold eye on the Amish:
“There is something breathtakingly condescending, as well as inhumane, about the sacrificing of anyone, especially children, on the altar of ‘diversity’ and the virtue of preserving a variety of religious traditions. The rest of us are happy with our cars and computers, our vaccines and antibiotics. But you quaint little people with your bonnets and breeches, your horse buggies, your archaic dialect and your earth-closet privies, you enrich our lives. Of course you must be allowed to trap your children with you in your seventeenth-century time warp, otherwise something irretrievable would be lost to us: a part of the wonderful diversity of human culture.”
The fact that the Amish are pacifists whose way of life burdens this beleaguered planet as little as any to be found in the Western world merits not even a mention.
Yet Dawkins himself has posited not only memes but, since these mind viruses are highly analogous to genes, a meme pool as well. This would imply that there are more than sentimental reasons for valuing the diversity that he derides. Would not the attempt to narrow it only repeat the worst errors of eugenics at the cultural and intellectual level? When the Zeitgeist turns Gorgon, the impulses toward cultural and biological eugenics have proved to be one and the same. It is diversity that makes any natural system robust, and diversity that stabilizes culture against the eccentricity and arrogance that have so often called themselves reason and science.
Memes, like genes, fight for evolutionary dominance. We know that biologcial diversity is valuable, and that dominance of the human race is undoing that diversity and threatening to tip us into catastrophe. But what about meme diversity. Theoretically, this is also favoured, by some, in what we call 'multi-culturalism'. And yet, in a way, meme diversity is even harder to keep in healthy balance than biological diversity, because, as portrayed in the Justin Isis tale, all memes are programmed to fight all other memes to the very death - victory for one side and defeat for the other. The only memes that make some - problematical - attempt to do otherwise are such pluralist memes as Daoism, Buddhism and so on, and even these are not yet entirely free from the 'defeat or victory', 'with us or against us' programming of other memes.
Recently, Momus wrote a blog post about this dilemma - how do the pluralist memes embrace the anti-pluralist memes as part of their pluralism? Or, as he put it, "whether, if we support openness, we must remain closed to the things we find closed, thereby contradicting ourselves."
I left some comments under the entry. I quote from one of them:
The essential issue you've written about (how to be open to what is closed, or whether you should be open to it), really is something that occupies a lot of mental space for me. I do find myself taking sides, but this frustrates me. It doesn't seem to get anywhere. It seems like conflict almost for the sake of it in the end, not in order to arrive at a resolution.
I suppose eternal war of this sort is tolerable if no one is playing to win, but only playing to play. But really to wish to vanquish the enemy, to have no more bambastic [sic], climactic art, for instance... Well, in this particular case, such a victory doesn't really appeal to me. I suppose there might be some areas in which I'd like to see such a victory.
Momus's reply was as follows:
Oh, you can take sides without banishing or vanquishing, Quentin! As Cage says, "We can both live".
We can both live. It seems so obvious. And yet, to many, it is not. To whoever killed Theo Van Gogh, for instance, it was not. Religion is a meme, and memes, as much as genes, seem to be about ensuring the immortality of a particular identity. To attack a meme - merely by disagreeing with it, by having a different meme - is to attack the very source of a person's proposed immortality, or so it must appear to them, depending on the meme.
If it's a case of victory and defeat with all memes, then it is war to the last standing, since all memes must vary slightly. Is that the logical conclusion of all this? One meme, just as genetic engineering and other factors would seem to promise that we are on the road to the dominance of one genetic pattern? Can a world even exist with such lack of diversity, or will it inevitably collapse on itself at that point?
Certainly, I don't know. All this is still a dilemma for me, and a serious question that requires the most serious consideration. One thing that seems sure is this, Sharia Law is not multi-culturalism.
We can both live. We can both live, as long as we are happy to see that even when our memes attempt to fight each other to death, our genes, our bodies, still live, and that, perhaps even in the case of meme-death, the death is not fatal, and immortality is ensured through "immortal hatred".
In The Possibility of an Island, Houellebecq wrote that language seems almost designed for conflict (the battle of meme vs meme), but that in physical closeness (he was talking about sex, mainly) harmony can be achieved. Make love, not war? As Leonard Cohen might say, "You can still get married"? It's easy to hate someone you've never met, because you've only seen their ideas - their memes. It's usually harder to hate someone in their presence, and the presence of their body (I realise there are exceptions here). Perhaps if I have any hope that the war might ever end, or that it might become a war whose only casualities are the 'playing-to-play-not-to-win' casualties of memes, who pretend to die for a while for the sake of the game, it is in the curious idea that people might begin to listen to their bodies more - bodies that can live and let live, so that we can both live, and bodies that know the harmony that is not in language.
I think it was only yesterday or the day before that my CD player started to conk out. There was no good reason for this behaviour whatsoever. Nonetheless, I have come to expect it. I don't know how many cheap CD players I've got through in the last few years, but it's become very, very clear to me that electrical goods of this kind are actually designed to self-destruct. The timing of the self-destruction has obviously not been perfected, since I've usually been able to trade the knackered item in for a new one. That is, unbelievably, in most cases, the models have expired within their piddling one-year guarantee. Inevitably, this makes me want to take an axe to someone. I suppose I should just get a more expensive model when I can afford it, and hope that the same principle of self-destruction does not apply.
Anyway, this development means that it's slightly harder for me to do a review of the new Momus album, Joemus.
Should I dare to attempt one now? Would it be disrepectful? After all, I'm tired and I have a headache, and I'm unlikely to be sparkling with effervescent wit.
Oh well, I'll do my best.
How many albums has Momus made now? I haven't counted, but it's lots. I don't have them all, but I have a fair stack of them, and for the last few years it seems like I've had a Momus album each Christmas, which is very handy. While not Momus's oldest fan by any means, I still feel a little like a veteran listener, just as Momus himself is a veteran of avant-garde electro pop, and, having followed the course of Momus's star for, I suppose, just over a decade now, and seeing that star take a route among the brighter and more conspicuous celestial bodies that is somehow at once more erratic and far steadier, I have come to think that by now we should just trust that Momus knows what he's doing, and stand out of the way and let him get on and do it. And even, as Adam Ant might say, take notes.
I preface my review with such remarks because I think I'm about to do something that Momus would appreciate and write a review that's not all good, but a little bit ambivalent, and 'nuanced'. That is, I'm going to give the album, say, 8 out of 10 (rating albums by numbers is utterly stupid, by the way), while at the same time expressing reservations about maybe more than half of the songs on it. Let's state that more simply. This is a great album with very few great songs.
I can make a statement like that because I believe, as some do, that the artist should educate his or her audience. There's no one I despise more on the face of the Earth than the putrid little beings who want their artists to come up with something expected. You wouldn't go to a fortune teller and say, "I want you to tell my fortune, but I want you to tell me that I will meet the love of my life tomorrow, and he'll be rich and well-educated, and remain with me for the rest of my life..." et cetera. You wouldn't do that, would you? You pay your money first, and you take whatever fortune you're given, because that's the deal. And yet, when it comes to art, people are always trying to dictate their own fortune to the oracle. "Oh, I didn't want the book to end like that. There should have been more action in it. I thought it was meant to be science fiction, but it was more like demented jun-ai gothic space-opera. That's not what I paid for." Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off. And die. Now. You pay your money and you take the fortune that you're given, or you don't come to an oracle at all.
Is that a philosophy that vitiates all artistic critism? I don't think so, personally. But that's a conversation for another day.
Anyway, Joemus, an album made with Joe Howe out of Gay Against You, manages to be unexpected even in the oeuvre of someone who is in the habit of surprising. It's all over the shop. This may well be attributable largely to the presence of a collaborator, since Momus usually does everything himself, so that the presence of another is bound to be more conspicuous than with other artists who work more in a pack anyway.
This headache's getting the better of me. To be continued...
20th Jan, 2009
Oh, I will finish this, but I think I need to be in the right mood. I think I write in my blog too often, with the result that much of it is very sloppy. Not only sloppy, but downright rash. It's too late, now, I suppose, I have already destroyed myself as a human being. Shame, like grief, is something that must be lived with from day to day (I've long had this line in mind as the opening of a story, and now I've ruined it by using it here first).
I don't know why I've just happened on this clip, but I have. All I can do, when I see this sort of thing, is think about how much I hate my native land. And once again post a link to Momus's essay on Britain, 'Nasty, British and Short'. Since some people may not click on the link, or may be put off by the length of the essay, I shall quote the most essential part of it here:
I recently saw Julien Temple's new Sex Pistols documentary, 'The Filth And The Fury'. It's a good film, with a few spine-tingling moments, but seeing the whole vomity, gobby story again was like drowning, and seeing Britain pass before my eyes. The livid hatred, the violence, the fear of sex (a value McLaren, the film's villain, wrote into the band's blueprint but Rotten disowned, famously declaring it 'two and a half minutes of squelching noises'), the adolescent nihilism (still hailed as cutting edge when it reappears in the work of PRML SCRM, Unkle, and the massed ranks of punky yuppies in combat trousers)... The film just underlined my belief that punk paved the way for Margaret Thatcher, that punk hated sex, that punk played into the hands of the tabloids (still the world's most Brutish, just like the censorship laws and just like the football hooligans) and that punk is one of the things that makes modern Britain so boring, so reactionary and so brutish.
Something else struck me. Lydon's evil cackle at the beginning of 'Holidays In The Sun' reveals him as an innocent who has decided to incarnate a malevolent view of human nature in the classic manner of the Dickensian pantomime villain. In The Sex Pistols, Lydon incarnates the British contempt for human nature. He becomes a parody of the malady, and is an immediate success in Britain. When, later, he and his nemesis McLaren try to embody the remedy to the Brutish disease, making records like 'Metal Box' and 'Duck Rock', the Brutish stay away in droves, fail to buy, and use bargepoles when parlaying. Bow Wow Wow with their sexy Eiffel towers and their odes to Louis Quattorze and home taping stiff too. The Brutish do not want the remedy. They want the malady. The remedy is always foreign, it involves a loss of identity. The malady, however horrible, is forever Brutish.
'Don't know what I want but I know how to get it/I wanna destroy the passerby'. Have you ever wanted to destroy the passerby, dear reader? I have frequently wanted to fuck the passerby, but never to destroy him or her. But dilute that sentiment a bit, until you simply wish to be unkind, unencouraging and unpleasant to the passerby, and you have in a nutshell the feeling of British life.
Watching the clip of Tony Prince, to which I posted a link, I asked myself which part of the British dichotomy I was - the middle-aged presenter, or the young, abusive, passer-by. Of course, immediately, the desire is to say that I am the young man, because, in a sly way, he is the 'victim' here. I'm sure Julie Burchill would say so. He is the 'target' of all that is reactionary in Britain. It is a moral imperative to side with him against the old fart. But, after all, I know I'm not 'cool' enough to be the lad. I must, therefore, be Tony Prince. Oh well. I almost have to sigh about it. Until it occurs to me that I have much more sympathy with Tony Prince, anyway, and, although we can all be judgemental and say he should have risen above the abuse, I thought his comeback was as dignified as lowering oneself ever can be. It wasn't witty, exactly, but it was good enough. The lad will never know how reactionary he is. He is the 'punk', and punk is subversive by definition. And subversive is good by definition, whoever you shit on, and however badly you treat your fellow human beings.
So, yeah, maybe I'm just Tony Prince.
Then again, I don't even have that middle-class dignity and... I want to say 'repose', though don't know if that even means anything in this context, but I'll say it anyway... repose that comes from whatever it is that the lad undoubtedly sees (not that he sees anything) as uncoolness and self-satisfaction.
In fact, I am both lad and Tony Prince. And neither.
I was thinking earlier, because of my other posts today, about regionalism. I grew up in Devon, in England, but it was not until adult life that I actually became aware of the kind of nasty, petty regionalism and tribalism that defines English and British life. Catholic/Protestant, working-class/middle-class, Manchester City/Manchester United, North/South and so on - all these divisions meant nothing to me. I was oblivious.
I went to university in Durham. I was looking forward to seeing a new part of England. The idea of spending a period of my life in the land of Geordies was peculiarly exciting, I suppose just because it would mean experiencing and learning about a part of the world I had only known by rumour before. "Getting to know you/Getting to know all about you/Getting to like you/Getting to hope you like me/Getting to know you/Putting it my way, but nicely/You are precisely/My cup of tea."
I wasn't prepared for the amount of hatred that existed in Durham and the North East generally for Southerners. (I'd never even thought of myself as a Southerner; I didn't know I was one until then.) I felt - that is, I learned to feel - much of the time like saying to people, as per Withnail and Marlowe(?) from Withnail and I, "I'm not from London, you know." Except I wouldn't have been lying. It probably wouldn't have helped even if I had been believed. Before I left Durham, amongst other incidents, a French exchange student was beaten to death in the street by locals.
I don't suppose it would have helped him, either.
And now, I wish I still never knew about the divisions I've named above. I wish I had never been made an expert in them, and made to feel they were a part of me, made to realise they have always been a part of me, and I wish I didn't even know who Julie Burchill was.
Well, I've just arrived in London and am marvelling again at how expensive everything is, and wondering how I ever managed to live here as an unsuccessful writer. The answer, of course, is that I didn't. I moved to Wales.
Anyway, my feet are sore. I've just come back from Waitrose with (hopefully) a week's worth of food. I'm vaguely looking forward to my birthday celebrations on Friday.
Before I went to Waitrose to buy tins of chopped tomato, pasta, and so on, I noticed a new review of my German collection, Dunkle Gestade (Aufgesang), online. I did the computer translation thing on it, and, well, it was pretty bad. Now, as I understand it, 'aufgesang' means something like 'volume one', but it's looking very much now like there's not going to be a volume two, after all. Every single review I have seen of my German collection has been bad. I believe sales have also been poor. Critics and public in Germany seem to be of one mind here: My stories are shit.
It's at times like this that I find that I'm forced to confront the unpleasant possibility that I might simply be a deluded no-hoper. I've often thought that there can be no worse fate than to be a 'bad poet'. Forever to be teased by the Muse, only to see her lavish her affections on everyone but yourself, to be, in fact, the Muse's cuckold, and a laughingstock. The very core of such an existence is embarrassment. Nobody wants to be this person, but somebody, some poor wretch, for the sake of cosmic completeness or some such thing, must be. And that person is me.
Faced with such overwhelming evidence that I am a complete failure, what do I do? I can't simply go on flying in the face of opinion, can I?
Hmmm. I suppose the logical thing to do would be to give up writing and find something to which I am more suited. Unfortunately, there is nothing to which I am more suited. I am a failure at the thing to which I am most suited. That's a bit of a bummer. There's nothing else I actually want to do, either. I mean, really, I'm so woefully lacking in motivation in every other area of my life apart from writing that... Well, I don't want to even tell you about it. Basically those other areas (and I'm not even going to mention them) have atrophied more or less into non-existence.
At times like this I want to believe in a god, just so I can tell him what a cunt he is.
Am I going to give up writing? Well, unfortunately, that seems unlikely. You know, I don't want to come across as indomitable, as some kind of unconquerable spirit, or anything. It's not really like that. It's more like - very much more like - someone who knows very well he will never be desirable simply carrying on in a resigned manner with his trainspotting. What else can I do? Quite simply, what else can I do?
Now, I'm sure that there are lots of glass-half-full people, who, if they read this, will want to point out that a few bad reviews does not a failure make. Well, maybe not. In which case we must ask, what is success? Am I happy with my stories? I don't know if I am, really. The point of stories for me is largely communication. I seem to be failing in my communication. But that's not quite it, either, is it? It's like painting a picture. You know if you haven't got that branch on that tree quite right, if the expression on that face isn't quite alive. My work is riddled with bad branches and dead faces. That, I think, is what really hurts. One can hope one is being too perfectionist, but one's hopes, then, rely on the feedback of reviewers and so forth. Apparently I haven't been perfectionist enough.
I was rather hoping that, since my success in the English-speaking world has been, shall we say, modest, that I would be like Edgar Allan Poe, whose reputation first took off in Europe. That must be the problem, I thought. They just don't understand me in the Anglosphere. But actually, my reception in Germany has been much worse than in Britain and America. So, that blows that theory.
I'm thinking now of Dazai Osamu, and feeling very close to him. I'm thinking of the odd-shaped tales in which he mentioned, here and there, how 'at that time' his stories never sold, or that he's been writing 'nothing but dasaku'. 'Dasaku' is a Japanese word meaning something like 'turkey' or, well, basically indicating artistic works that fail in their purpose. He says somewhere that he never understood the criticism that he was a talented writer who was unfortunately lacking in moral fibre, and that he felt it was the other way round. He was a very moral person with no talent, and knew no other way to write than simply to forge ahead blindly with the full force of his being. Yes, I understand these words very well.
Morrissey, I believe, once said that he was intensely interested in failure, adding impishly, "Only in other people, of course." And that's a telling qualification to his comment. Morrissey fascinates because he has made a success of failure. I am not like Morrissey. Rather, I am like one of the characters about whom he sings. Like, for instance, the 'hero' of Little Man, What Now?. "Did that swift eclipse torture you? A star at eighteen and then suddenly gone, down to a few lines on the back page of a faded annual." Except, of course, I have the consolation that I have never been a star, so 'eclipse', in my case, is inappropriate. No, more appropriate to me is the song Southpaw, but, once again, I don't even want to go into that. Basically, where Morrissey has made a success out of failure, I have only made a failure out of failure.
I am interested in failure, though. So interested that I seem to have to live it out quite thoroughly. In fact, only the other day, I was thinking of writing a blog post about why I am fascinated by Stuart Goddard, otherwise known as Adam Ant, of Adam and the Ants fame. Stuart Goddard was and probably still is, a fantasist, like myself. He threw himself with wonderful, deranged flamboyance into his silly, flimsy fantasy world, and for a while, the public supported him in his derangement. And then the trampoline was cruelly snatched from under him. Or so it seems.
"Ridicule is nothing to be scared of!"
Yes, failure interests me, and I'm fairly philosophical about it. Even if I am a 'bad poet', I am also a bit of a contrary bastard, I suppose, and will simply go on writing bad poetry, literally or metaphorically, until I die. That will be my statement. That will my contribution to the world. I don't know if it's a choice or whether I just can't help it. It feels somehow like both at the same time - a choice that I can't help making. On his tombstone, Kafu wanted the epitaph 'Kafu the Scribbler'. Seidensticker, his translator and biographer, considered that Kafu had never written any single work worth translating. I love Kafu. Perhaps I will have something similar on my tombstone. "Quentin S. Crisp. 1972 - 2010. He wrote a load of really stupid stories."
Anyway, we'll all be turned into robots in two years, and live happily ever after, so it won't matter.
Just in case this sounds like unmitigated self-pity, I'll add something else from one of Dazai's stories here. I forget the title, but it was a story in the form of letters being written between two writers. The older writer (I believe) scolds the younger that he has a "masterpiece complex", that he is impatient to write a masterpiece so that he can get it over with and stop writing. But there is no end to writing. You simply have to pick yourself up, and pick your pen up, and carry on. And carry on. And because there's no ending, it's perpetually as if all you have done so far has come to nothing, and you are only just starting. And that's the way it has to be.
I became a hotel doorman, I stood there on the doormat Clutching my forgotten discs in their forgotten format Trying to hand them out to all the stars who sauntered in The ones who hadn't been like me, who hadn't lived in vain I gave up ideology the day I lost my looks I never found a publisher for my little red books When I died the energy released by my frustration Was nearly enough for re-incarnation
But if I could live my life again the last thing that I'd be Is a Maoist intellectual in the music industry No, if I could live my life again I think I'd like to be The man whose job is to stop the men who think like me Yeah! If l could live my life again that'd be the thing to be The man who plots the stumbling blocks In the lives of the likes of me!
Excellent stuff. I particularly like the use of the word 'nearly' in "nearly enough for re-incarnation". The narrator even fails to get re-incarnated through his frustration. I'm sure that's what will happen to me, too.
Oh, if anyone in Germany has read Dunkle Gestade and actually liked it, I would be quite interested to know.
When I write, as part of the ritual necessary to putting me in the right frame of mind, as well as making myself a pot of tea, I tend to put on some music. This is usually instrumental (with one or two exceptions). For instance, favourites include the soundtrack the from film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters by Philip Glass and (currently) Mum's Finally We Are No one. Another disc that has graced my player during the ritual of writing, and at various other times, is Reflections on a Past Life as Played on the Roland Synthesiser, by Rroland. Rroland's music is, to offer a very general description, instrumental, electronic and ambient. However, I'm not sure I could really give an idea of genre here, and even the word 'ambient' seems misleading. Sometimes, when I'm writing, I find that the music refuses to be background music. Some of the pieces are too structured to really be 'ambient', seeming to build themselves in cyclopean blocks before the mind's eye, and even those that have a drifting quality are only really misty - if at all - at the edges. If this is drifting, then it is drifting as experienced by Walter Gilman in H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch House', who finds himself nocturnally travelling in dream through regions that "lie beyond the three dimensions we know" in "plunges through limitless abysses of inexplicably coloured twilight and bafflingly disordered sound; abysses whose material and gravitational properties, and whose relation to his own entity, he could not even begin to explain."
In the case of Reflections on a Past Life, however, there is some explanation, and that explanation is in the title. The fifteen tracks on the disc are a musical representation of a past-life re-lived, and, I must say, they do rather feel that way, like a therapeutic session, perhaps, with the likes of R.D. Laing, whose aim is to re-experience and thus to exorcise buried trauma. The reviews I have read of the disc use phrases such as "Candyland-on-crack", but my own experience is not of 'electronic popsicles'. To give an example, The Road up to Hell sounds to me like a cryogenically frozen soul watching paralysed as bits of karmic space debris burn up in the atmosphere of its aura.
Just the other day, Momus invited the readers of his blog to interview each other in his comments section. I wrote down an impromptu list of questions, and a number of people were generous enough to answer these (and all of them interestingly). Among these people there was Rroland, who has kindly given me permission to reproduce the interview here:
Q: What was the last book (s) that you read?
R: Street of Crocodiles Bruno Schultz
Q: How was it?
R: Funny, sad, inspiring made me want to compose new stuff
Q: Do you have any pets?
R: no, a mouse once lived with me but my landlord killed it
Q: What's your favourite non-alcholic drink?
R: Trader Joe's Bedtime tea
Q: What would be the preferred manner of your death?
R: in the backcountry while hiking, or with my head on my keyboard playing an endless distorted note
Q: What is the oldest article of clothing that you still wear?
R: that's a long answer, i wear everything until it falls apart
Q: What is your favourite kind of weather?
R: thick fog
Q: What is the least touristy place you have ever been?
R: San Diego, CA
Q: What place names make you laugh?
R: San Diego
Q: Have you ever been personally involved with someone born on an island smaller than Taiwan?
Q: Do you prefer to use chopsticks, knife and fork, or hands?
R: Chopsticks when possible
Q: Have you ever walked out on a film in the cinema, and if so, what was it?
R: 'I'm not There', The Heath Ledger parts were pissing me off
Q: What's your least favourite cartoon and why?
R: He-Man, because i am a mis-anthropist
Q: Who is the world's funniest comedian?
R: Franz Kafka
Q: What do you want to do next week?
Q: Have you ever admired someone for political reasons?
R: yes, Momus
Q: What is the most psychologically formative event of your life before the age of nine?
R: when I burned my dad's porn collection and started a field on fire and got in trouble with the fire department
Q: Where did you last go for a daytrip and why?
R: I walked about 10 miles across the GG Bridge from my house in SF and took the ferry back from Sausalito
Thanks for interview Quentin!
You may listen to some of Rroland's music at his Myspace page, here.