height

Friday, December 28, 2012

Psychology

S: You have often expressed contempt for psychology. Yet you keep talking about the mystery of personality in ways that sound psychological. What's the difference between what you want to understand and what the psychologist wants to understand? 

B: The psychologist discovers only what he can explain. I explain nothing. 

S: You are a person with no preconceptions. 

B: None at all. 

S: Whereas psychology is a closed system, whose premises dictate its method. Therefore, it discovers evidence in support of a preexisting theory of human behavior. 

B: If I succeed at all, I suppose some of what I show on the screen will be psychologically valid, even though I am not quite aware of it. But of course, I don't always succeed. In any case, I never want to explain anything. The trouble with most films is that they explain everything. 

....

S: What I am trying to explore with you is the emotional problem for the spectator [in Pickpocket]. 

B: I never think of the spectator. 

S: But you can see that your hero might appear unsympathetic. 

B: He is unsympathetic. Why not? 

S: I am also puzzled, in view of your uninterest in psychology, at the heavy psychological emphasis in this film. Let me explain. As we see the hero stealing, we don't know his motive, but toward the end of the film we find out that he previously stole from his mother. We then realize his psychological motivation; he stole from his mother, felt guilty about that, was ashamed to confess to her, and, therefore, commits crimes so as to be punished and fulfill his need for penitence. 

B: Perhaps, but only a psychiatrist would explain it like that. As Dostoyevsky frequently does, I present the effect before the cause. I think this is a good idea because it increases the mystery; to witness events without knowing why they are occurring makes you desire to find out the reason.

From this interview with Robert Bresson.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Novelist and the Storyteller

The novelist has isolated himself. The birthplace of the novel is the solitary individual, who is no longer able to express himself by giving examples of his most important concerns, is himself uncounselled, and cannot counsel others.

From The Storyteller by Walter Benjamin 

Benjamin was distinguishing the novelist from the 'storyteller', by which he meant someone participating in an oral culture: that is, someone linked to their audience by direct physical contact, for whom storytelling is a bodily performance. I think that the growth of online culture has, ironically (given that all online communication is, by definition, mediated), taken us back to the age of the storyteller. It is impossible to flourish as a new writer now without communicating regularly and closely with one's audience: that is, without performing the role of author in public.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Paris Peasant' by Louis Aragon

Louis’ Aragon’s anti-novel Paris Peasant [Paysan de Paris, 1926] is one of the earliest Surrealist texts. To my mind, it’s superior to Breton’s Nadja, though the latter is better known and more widely read now, perhaps because it has a recognisable plot of sorts (that of the author’s romance with the titular heroine), whereas the structure of Paris Peasant is determined only by Aragon’s perambulations around a soon-to-be-demolished shopping arcade (the longest part of the book is a tour of all the shops it contains) and the Buttes-Chaumont park. Throughout, Aragon pays particular attention to places where the distinction between public and private is in abeyance, as indeed it is in arcades and parks in general, but even more so in public lavatories, bathhouses, hairdressers, brothels, and the more secluded corners of Buttes-Chaumont after dark.

The walk around the park put me in mind of several photographers: Atget, who in fact took several photographs in Buttes-Chaumont (Google tells me they were of trees, but perhaps he also photographed the statuary, as was his wont), Brassai, whose Paris After Dark contains several images of locked park entrances (Aragon and friends are surprised to discover Buttes-Chaumont open when they arrive there by taxi at night); and, most of all, several infrared images shot by Weegee of lovers in New York parks. Like Weegee's, Aragon’s nocturnal stroll is also surrounded by partially-visible canoodling couples, but he leaves them in semi-obscurity, which is more inspirational for his surrealist purposes.

If I have understood Weegee's technique correctly (it is rarely explained), he used a flash with an infrared filter to expose the film: the filter suppressed the light source from the point-of-view of his subjects, but allowed infrared wavelengths through to provide enough light to expose the film. He shot several famous images in darkened cinemas and on the Coney Island beaches using the same technique. The results are far from seductive, since infrared light exaggerates bone shadows on the face, and highlights skin imperfections, especially male stubble. But they are revealing. Nonetheless, it seems a mean-spirited – not to mention voyeuristic – pursuit, and I can’t imagine anyone replicating it now without being prosecuted. I’m glad the photographs exist, but Aragon’s descriptions are both more suggestive and more tactful: desire generalised and mythologised, like the gouged outlines of hearts and genitals that Brassai photographed for his graffiti project.

One of the most inspired aspects of Paris Peasant is Aragon's inclusion of transcriptions of ephemera - newspaper cuttings, price lists, product advertisements, shop signs - which give a fascinating insight into the history of the everyday in 20s Paris, and (in the form of inscriptions on a column in the park and a disquistion on statues) into the relationship between the ephemeral and the historical. These transcripts are not photographic reproductions of the originals, at least in my English translation (Sebald's work occasionally includes such photographs of ephemera, but Aragon was the pioneer here). The texts are instead displayed in a variety of layouts that attempt to mimic the designs of the originals. This has a strange effect: a strictly mimetic intention (which is, moreover, concerned with written texts that do not aspire to innovation) results in highly original typography in the context of a book.

I wish (I wish!) I had had the foresight to retain receipts from Venice in 2004 (the setting and time for much of Reciprocity Failure), and to take related notes on signs and prices, so as to follow Aragon's example.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Site Maintenance

I am in the process of changing servers, so my website (jonathanwalkervenice.com, and various subdomains) is likely to experience significant downtime over the next couple of weeks. Links from blog entries to the site will suffer accordingly.

The site should be back to normal before Christmas.

EDIT: Everything seems to be working fine as of 18 December.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Outmoded

He was the first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the 'outmoded', in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them.
Walter Benjamin on the Surrealist leader Andre Breton

Outmoded technologies are those which once seemed natural, but now seem peculiar, quaint, redundant. Because they are outmoded, we become aware of their specific properties and limitations.

A photograph is no longer a second-generation print enlarged from a negative - and before digital technology displaced film, the default state of a photograph went from a daguerreotype (1840s), to a black-and-white print (mid-nineteenth century until the 1960s), to colour slide (in the 60s and 70s), to colour print (in the 80s and 90s).

To their original users, all these technologies seemed intrinsic to the definition of what a photograph was.

To use an outmoded technology is not, therefore, an invitation to nostalgia; or it need not be. It is instead an invitation to consider the results as the product of a historical process.

In Reciprocity Failure, this point applies most obviously to the use of chemical photography by the narrator as a deliberate, 'reverse' anachronism. But it also applies to outmoded philosophies, which are used to frame and explain the photographs he creates: phenomenology and psychoanalysis.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

'Dart for My Sweetheart' by Archie Bronson Outfit



The album this is from - Derdang Derdang - is full of seething sexual tension, with the performances constantly on the edge of total (male) hysteria.

Friday, November 2, 2012

'American Gigolo' by Paul Schrader

The opening scene in the shooting script for American Gigolo by Paul Schrader is as follows:  

INT. COCKTAIL LOUNGE -- NIGHT FADE IN:  

Pre-credits. We only see his face, speaking through the shadows. He brushes his index finger lightly across his lips as he speaks. He knows: his lips are his most sexual organ. 

JULIAN 
You know who I am. I know who you are. We have no secrets. I know what you're thinking. You know what I'm thinking. We have our own methods of communication. You don't have to say anything. I can read your thoughts. I know what you need. You're afraid. You're afraid of your husband. You're afraid of yourself. You're afraid of your own sexuality. You're afraid to ask for what you need. You're afraid of being hurt.  

Julian sits in a dimly lit booth with a middle-aged woman. His eyes are only on her. His crème brûlée is untouched. The woman nervously sips her coffee as he spins his web

There's no reason to be afraid. I don't know why you're afraid. I don't even know why we're sitting here. Why we're wasting time eating things we don't want to eat, doing things we don't want to do, talking in front of people who don't matter. It's so simple. You know who I am. You want to be here. You want to be with me. You know what I can do. I can make you relax, relax like you've never relaxed before. Make you aroused like you've never been aroused before. Excited. I know how to touch you. Where to touch you. How to kiss you. Where to kiss you . . . 

CUT TO: 
End pre-credits. 

Credits. 

The opening of the finished film omits this scene entirely, and starts with the credit sequence. However, part of the monologue can be found in the trailer (I think some of the lines were incorporated in a later scene in the finished film, and the snippets in the trailer are probably taken from there):



P.s. Someone has compiled lots of critical opinions on American Gigolo, but s/he missed a rather less positive assessment from a sex worker.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Most Print Books are Ugly

In the endless debate over e-books, one of the principal reasons for defending the older, analogue model of publishing has been the fetishisation of the book as an object (I'm not using 'fetishisation' perjoratively here: I'm a fan of fetishisation). But the fact is that the vast majority of printed books are not desirable objects. The vast majority of printed books are incredibly ugly. They're printed on cheap paper, which begins to yellow very quickly; they're poorly bound, and begin to fall apart very quickly; they're poorly typeset, with inadequate margins; and they're shoddily packaged, with covers that date very quickly.

I do not conclude from this that e-books are better than traditional paperbacks: no design whatsoever is not superior to poor design. My conclusions are instead similar to those of Richard Nash, former Head of Soft Skull Press, interviewed at The Boston Review:

I’m tremendously optimistic about the future of the book as an object. I think the worst years of the book as an object have been the last 50 years. 

Interviewer: Why? 

When I started at Soft Skull in 2001 we were printing on 55-pound paper. By 2005, we were typically printing on 50-pound paper. By 2008, half our books were on 45-pound groundwood. And that’s because our print runs were going down. And even with publishers whose print runs weren’t going down, they were trying to save money. Because when the book’s primary purpose was not to be an object, but rather to be a mass-produced item for sale in big-box retail, then there’s going to be downward pressure on costs. And so what we have witnessed over the last 50 years is the progressive shittification of the book as an object—a process that is not external to publishing as it was practiced over the last 100 years, but has in fact been at its fore. 

If you’ve got a manufacturing supply chain, then the dictates of manufacturing are going to be the ones that drive the business. And there’s certainly going to be some ad hoc occasional efforts not to do that: certain independent publishers will try to focus on quality, and certain individual books from other publishers might be tarted up for one reason or another, for marketing purposes. But those are the exceptions. Basically, when you’ve got an industry that is pushing out $25 billion worth of physical products into a supply chain, the vast majority of businesses are going to try to cut costs and increase revenues. And the simplest way to cut costs is going to be on the production side. So if the core of the business is no longer a supply chain, but rather the orchestration of writing and reading communities, the book is freed of its obligation to be the sole means for the broad mass dissemination of the word, and instead become a thing where the intrinsic qualities of the book itself can be explored. 

I believe in the importance of book design to the reading experience. In its current form, the e-book entirely nullifies the existence of design, and wiping out centuries of accumulated wisdom on how to improve the reading experience at a stroke hardly seems worthy of celebration. But equally I feel little nostalgia for the cheap, smelly, decaying paperback editions I grew up with.

I think the role of printed books in the future will be similar to the role of vinyl in the current music industry. And if that means better designed and better produced books, but in much smaller quantities, and at a higher price, well, so be it.

For my next book, I anticipate preparing a 'generic' electronic edition, which adapts the contents to the limitations of e-book format (since it's foolish to pretend that e-books don't exist); and a printed version with a more elaborate and nuanced design. The word count will be exactly the same, but the presentation will be quite different. Such distinctions seem a necessary evil, since failing to accomodate the electronic version to the limitations of the software in e-readers could have unforeseen consequences, and (in a book in which design is an important element) could in fact render parts of the work utterly incomprehensible if said design elements are simply automatically 'stripped' by the e-reader. Authors have to intervene in this process, not leave it to the software designers.

Or maybe my sense of the limitations of e-readers is inaccurate (I don't own one). Has anyone read, for example, House of Leaves on an e-reader? What kind of experience was it?

[N.B. I found the Nash interview here.]

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bagpuss and Commodity Fetishism



The collector … makes his concern the transfiguration of things. To him falls the Sisyphean task of divesting things of their commodity character by taking possession of them. But he bestows on them only connoisseur value, rather than use value.
Walter Benjamin

What is it that animates Bagpuss and his friends? Love.

Emily's shop doesn't sell anything, but only displays valueless objects lost by others. These lost objects include, implcitly, Bagpuss and his friends, who live in the shop window, and who, in each episode, interpret and repair a new object that Emily finds and brings to the shop:

The toys would discuss what the new object was; someone (usually Madeleine) would tell a story related to the object (shown in an animated thought bubble over Bagpuss's head), often with a song, ... and then the mice, singing in high-pitched squeaky harmony as they worked, would mend the broken object. The newly mended thing would then be put in the shop window, so that whoever had lost it would see it as they went past, and could come in and claim it.

Bagpuss is about the recovery of meaning through love. Love is a kind of fetishisation, but it acts as the antidote to commodity fetishisation. 

(I see I am not the first to give Bagpuss a quasi-Marxist reading. In mulling over this reading, I also had a go at connecting the moment of Bagpuss waking up to Benjamin's image of awakening into revolutionary consciousness from the nightmare of history, but I couldn't quite make that idea work.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

'Casanova' by Federico Fellini

Heath Ledger is too pretty for the title role in Lasse Halstrom's recent film about Casanova. The Venetian lover has no pathos if he’s played as a pretty boy. Fellini's similarly eponymous 1976 film stars Donald Sutherland, an unlikely (and therefore more interesting) choice, with his prominent eyes and lugubrious face, features which are further exaggerated by an artificially shaved hairline. His head looks like an egg, from which two additional half-eggs protrude in the form of his eyes. It’s a film about creative exhaustion (sex being Casanova’s arena of aesthetic activity), which unfortunately succumbs to its protagonist’s state of mind.

In the most striking scene, Casanova makes love to his ideal partner: a clockwork automaton, played by Leda Lojodice (a.k.a. Adele Angela Lojodice), who I assume was a dancer, since her movements are precisely suggestive of mechanism, but in a graceful, liquid way: a woman pretending to be a doll pretending to be a woman. (This version is in Italian with no subtitles, but the dialogue isn't really important.)



The music and sound design (for the automaton's clockwork sounds) complement the actress's performance perfectly. It's an incredibly creepy scene about narcissism and objectification, which is obviously influenced by Hoffman's tale of the Sandman, with the doll here being a version of Olympia in that tale.

Compare and contrast Deckard's encounter with the renegade 'pleasure model' replicant Pris from Blade Runner:



HA HA HA HAA HAAAA.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Project



From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, entry on ‘Existentialism’:

[T]he self cannot be conceived as a Cartesian ego but is embodied being-in-the-world, a self-making in situation. It is through transcendence—or what the existentialists also refer to as my “projects”—that the world is revealed, takes on meaning; but such projects are themselves factic or “situated”—not the product of some antecedently constituted “person” or intelligible character but embedded in a world that is decidedly not my representation. Because my projects are who I am in the mode of engaged agency (and not like plans that I merely represent to myself in reflective deliberation), the world in a certain sense reveals to me who I am.

From Susan Sontag, ‘‘Spiritual style in the films of Robert Bresson’:

All of Bresson’s films have a common theme: the meaning of confinement and liberty. The imagery of the religious vocation and of crime are used jointly. Both lead to ‘the cell’. .... In A Man Escaped, the elderly man in the adjoining cell asks the hero, querulously, ‘Why do you fight?’ Fontaine answers, ‘To fight. To fight against myself’. The true fight against oneself is against one’s heaviness, one’s gravity. And the instrument of this fight is the idea of work, a project, a task.

From Reciprocity Failure, chapter 1:

‘Are you an artist?’

I scowl, but she doesn’t sound like she’s taking the piss. ‘No’.

‘What then?’

I shrug. ‘Progetto’. An all-purpose Italian word, indicative of intellectual or artistic ambition, but without any precise commitment.

Monday, October 15, 2012

'Texi Driver' by Martin Scorsese (written by Paul Schrader)



THEN SUDDENLY, THERE IS A CHANGE.

I wrote an austere film and it was directed in an expressionistic way. I think that the two qualities work together. There is a tension in the film that is very interesting.
Paul Schrader

Thursday, September 27, 2012

'Bright Phoebus' by Lal and Mike Waterson

Bright Phoebus is a classic folk-rock album, first released in 1972. It bombed, and has been almost impossible to obtain ever since (my copy is from ... mumble mumble, clears throat). Although it has never had a proper re-release, there was a CD issue at one point, based on what sounds like a very poor transfer from the vinyl. Here's hoping it gets a remastered digital upgrade.

Lal and Mike were siblings, and also sang (together with sister Norma and other relations and friends) as a group in The Watersons, who performed arrangements of traditonal music. Bright Phoebus was therefore a doubly unexpected release of all original material, coming as it did after a long hiatus from The Watersons. From the Wikipedia page for Lal:

Lal, Norma, and Mike Waterson were orphans and brought up by their grandmother who was of part gypsy descent. Always very close, they began singing together, with cousin John Harrison, in the 1950s, with Lal 'singing unexpected harmonies.' Having opened their own folk club in a pub in the fishing port of Hull where they grew up, by the mid 1960s they had developed their own unaccompanied style singing harmony style re-workings of traditional English songs. In 1968 they stopped touring and became geographically separate for the first time - Norma went to Montserrat, and Lal to Leeds where her husband George lived, while Mike stayed in Hull. Both Mike and Lal were writing songs and when Lal returned to Hull they began working together. When Martin Carthy heard Lal's songs he found them extraordinary. At this time Carthy was in the folk-rock band Steeleye Span and he told the bass player Ashley Hutchings about Lal and Mike's songs and together they arranged to have them recorded, not unaccompanied, but with a backing band that included Carthy, Hutchings and Richard Thompson. Bright Phoebus was released in 1972 and 'caused a quiet sensation'. Her songs sometimes echoed traditional material but also involved a variety of other influences - 'some veered towards jazz and ragtime, others like Winifer Odd had a quirky charm worthy of The Beatles, but with bleak lyrics added. Another favourite Fine Horseman, made use of unexpected chords and structures.' Lyrics were as important to her as the music. The writer she admired most was the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud.

That summary perhaps undersells the contribution of Mike Waterson to Bright Phoebus, although it would be fair to say that his songwriting isn't as extraordinary as Lal's. The opening Rubber Band, written by Mike, is something of an embarrassment: the sort of song that people who hate English folk rock imagine it sounds like (it reminds me of Steeleye Span's similarly execrable All Around My Hat). Mike's other contributions are more effective. He wrote the album's title track, and also the concluding verse of The Scarecrow, the spinechilling second song, which immediately stakes the album's claim to greatness. He also sings this song. His voice is quavering and full of character - Lal's is similarly 'impure'. Both have very pronounced NE England accents, even while singing (no transatlantic drawl here).



There is a fantastic cover of The Scarecrow by June Tabor, which I had with me in Venice when I wrote the first chapters of Five Wounds (and the song's scenario is adapted for a dream sequence late in the book).

Another standout is the penultimate track, Red Wine and Promises (written by Lal, sung by Norma in a guest appearance), which is one of the best songs about being drunk I've ever heard.



Here's a short radio documentary (in two parts) about the recording of the album:



Over twenty years after Bright Phoebus, Lal released a new collection of original songs with her son, Oliver Knight, Once in a Blue Moon.:



Sadly Lal died a few years ago, very suddenly; and Mike also died recently. Bright Phoebus not only represents a singular achievement as a piece of recorded music; but the history of its creators is also an example of how to live a dignified and meaningful life in the face of commercial failure. When they recorded the album, Lal was a housewife and Mike was a painter / joiner. Shortly after it bombed, they reformed The Watersons and went back to singing traditional songs. Neither of them gave up on music; and those who heard the album didn't give up on them either.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Phaidon 55 Series

‘The illiteracy of the future’, someone has said, ‘will be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography’. But shouldn’t a photographer who cannot read his own pictures be no less accounted an illiterate? Won’t inscription become the most important part of the photograph?
Walter Benjamin, ‘Little History of Photography’, 1931

The first part of this quotation was cited by Phaidon as one of the inspirations for their 55 series, a set of small monographs, published in pocket-sized paperback editions c. 2000. Each title in the series is dedicated to an individual photographer and features 55 images by him or her, with separate commentary for each image, and an introductory essay. The format and design for each book in the series is identical: it opens with a photographic portrait or self-portrait of the subject, followed by the introduction in continuous text (i.e. with no interpolated illustrations or 'figures'), followed by a series of 55 commentary / image layouts, most of which have a short passage of text on the left page (verso) and a photograph on the right page (recto). At the end of the book, there is a chronology for the subject’s life and work, followed by a final page with biographical notes for photographer and commentator / editor.

Mikhailov 55

The initial price of each volume was £4.95 in the UK. The idea was to provide affordable, portable introductions to the work of key photographers, to enable people to acquire a library of such works, in much the same way that Penguin Classics encouraged engagement with the literature of the past in post-war Britain. They were readable not only in the sense of being written for non-specialists, but in the sense you could slip them in your pocket and take them out to browse on the train.

There were of course other, related publishing initiatives (besides my collection of Phaidon 55s, I have several volumes from the Photo Poche series by Delpire, published originally in French, but acquired by me in various languages, depending on where and when I was able to get hold of them). However, the Phaidon series seems to me to have been the most imaginative and ambitious because of its use of text, which was, incidentally, typeset in light grey (with black for the headings). In skipping from photograph to text, the grey therefore served as a sort of calibration for the tonal scale of the image.

While the design and production of the books was uniform, the protocol for the selection of the images and the nature of the commentary differed from title to title. In most cases, a curator chose the 55 images and wrote both the introduction and the commentary. In some cases, a critic wrote the introduction, but the photographer made the selection and / or wrote the commentary. Some of the chosen writers contributed rather dull, pseudo-academic introductions that occasionally lapsed into artspeak, but in other cases the combination of writer and photographer was inspired: for example, in the volume on Walker Evans, where the text is by Luc Sante.

The direct commentary on the photographs was usually evocative and incisive, since it was almost always less than one hundred words per image, and it also avoided technical information (these were not 'how-to' books). But it otherwise varied greatly, both in tone and in what we might call its terms of engagement with the images. The commentary for the Eugene Richards 55, for example (by Charles Bowden), is a sort of continuous rolling jazz riff on the circumstances and characters of the human subjects of the images, cut into 55 short segments that run on into one another, like a Beat poem.

I own almost all of the paperback 55s, and in acquiring them I encountered many photographers about whom I previously knew nothing, so from my point-of-view the concept was an unqualified success, their only flaw being that the binding and glue tends to fall apart with extensive use (a problem that may be attributable to the paper, which is necessarily thicker than that used for most paperbacks). However, Phaidon significantly revised the project in the mid-2000s, when they started to issue new titles in the series (along with selected reprints of popular earlier titles) in a larger, hardback format, and at an increased price. The only currently available paperbacks seem to be left over from the initial print runs. So, perhaps, from Phaidon's point-of-view, the initial concept did not prove to be cost-effective.

The new iteration of the project is still cheaper than many photographic monographs or exhibition catalogues, but not by much - their newest 55 title on Edward Curtis is advertised at £22.95! At that price, I'd only buy a volume if I had a prior interest in the subject, and even then I'd have to consider it carefully. The increased price and page size also discourages browsing and continual use, whereas, because of the cheap price, I didn't much mind if the original paperbacks became dogeared or worn from carrying them around. 

The 55 series was not only an essential part of my visual education, but also a primer for the second part of Benjamin’s comment above (along with the work of John Szarowski): they taught me how to write about photographs in a concise and meaningful way.

Friday, September 14, 2012

'Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought' by Martin Jay

For me it is not a detachment to take a picture. It’s a way of touching somebody—it’s a caress.
Nan Goldin

Reciprocity Failure not only features numerous photographs. It is about their creation, which is an integral part of the narrative (this distinguishes it from, e.g., the work of W. G. Sebald, in which the text is never really conscious of the presence of photographs in its midst). It is therefore about the relationship between art and life, but also about art-making as a mode of consciousness. How do we 'think' photographically: that is, how do we think with a camera

One influential answer to this question is: we think like a voyeur. This critique of photography as intrinsically voyeuristic is tied up with a wider critique of vision, as described in Martin Jay's Downcast Eyes: The Denigration ofVision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. A characteristic statement of this position is by Luce Irigaray (quoted on p. 493): More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters. It sets at a distance, and maintains a distance. In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations

As applied to photography, this analysis echoes Susan Sontag’s On Photography 

What is being urged is an aggressive relation to all subjects. Armed with their machines, photographers are to make an assault on reality – which is perceived as recalcitrant, as only deceptively available, as unreal (p. 121, also quoted in a previous discussion of a character whose photographic activities parody Sontag's argument).

Sartre's suspicion of the ‘gaze’ as intrinsically objectifying is also influential here, and even more so the gendered variant of his analysis suggested by Simone de Beauvoir. Most commentators therefore treat the camera’s lens as the exemplary instance of the exploitative, male gaze.  

Reciprocity Failure draws instead on the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, which is concerned specifically with appearances (i.e. phenomena), and which therefore offers a different way to think about how photography intersects with gender relations and sexuality. In drawing on this alternative tradition, I describe photography in terms of touching (intimacy) rather than looking (distance). Or rather, photography does not isolate vision from the other senses, but rather unites looking and touching.

There is a problem with this argument though. By promoting photography as a kind of touching, I am in effect underwriting the 'denigration of vision' described by Martin Jay, rather than arguing against it: because I am implicitly admitting that photography can't be redeemed except by translating it into something other than looking.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chris Ware Quotation

CW: I don’t want them to be interesting lines or interesting drawings, because then my hand comes into it too much.

Q: Why is that a problem?

CW: Because I just think it’s harder to read, in the same way that I wouldn’t want to read Ernest Hemingway’s rough draft of one of his novels, I would want to read the typeset, clean version, because I don’t want to be aware of his handwriting or anything. Not that you couldn’t be, necessarily. It’s certainly interesting to see an author’s corrected proof — you can see his scratch-outs and things that are added in — but fundamentally the intention is to have it read smoothly. It’s the words that matter; it’s the story that matters, and fundamentally, I’m interested in the story ...

[From this interview]

Friday, September 7, 2012

'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson

I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.

The above quotation from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, first published in 1886, is the epigraph for Pat Barker’s The Eye in the Door, a novel that features a protagonist experiencing fugue states. In The Eye in the Door, the theme of dissociation is strongly associated with that of surveillance: in other words, dissociation is a way to evade the surveillance of our own conscience, as indeed it is for Jekyll (see also: Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly).

Stevenson’s text is odder than its subsequent reworkings in popular culture might suggest. The first thing to note is that Hyde, who is described as both slighter and younger than Jekyll (the latter is common in dramatisations, but not the former), is rather unimpressive as an avatar of evil. He tramples a child underfoot in the opening chapter; and later he commits a murder without provocation; but otherwise his propensities are described in rather vague terms. Perhaps this was quite enough to create an overwhelming impression of evil in 1886, but it seems rather tame now. Of particular note – and again this distinguishes Stevenson’s tale from its later dramatisations – is the absence of any sexual element in Hyde's escapades. Indeed, there are almost no female characters at all, except in incidental roles (e.g. a servant who witnesses Hyde carrying out the murder from an attic window). This absence has lead some interpreters to see Hyde as an allegory of repressed homosexual desire (hence the lawyer Utterson’s suspicion that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll). As if in response to this, almost all subsequent dramatisations (including the very first stage production, in the 1880s) have added a heterosexual love interest for Jekyll, and in many cases, they also insist that Hyde’s evil nature expresses itself in sexual terms, usually by violence against female prostitutes (as in, for example, the 1990 television adaptation starring Michael Caine). This last point does take up an allusion in the original text, since Hyde rents a room in a squalid neighbourhood to facilitate unspecified depravities, an action that has no obvious explanation within the text (why would he need a separate room?), but makes immediate sense if one assumes his landlady is a madam.

Lending credence to both the homosexual and the violent heterosexual subtexts is the fact that all the important male characters in the story, including Jekyll, are middle-aged or elderly bachelors, who seem to spend most of their time in each other’s company (this circumstance is apparently not worthy of comment, either for Stevenson or his protagonists). The subsequent career of Jack the Ripper – who came to public attention in 1888, and has been associated with Hyde ever since – lent immediate credence to the second of these interpretations.

Both these sexual interpretations are of course characteristically psychoanalytic, in that they identify what the text does not say as its most revealing element. Stevenson himself rejected any sexual interpretation of Hyde’s proclivities.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Illustrated by ....

From The Paris Review interview with Robert Crumb:

INTERVIEWER
Genesis is obviously a graphic novel, but the cover is like a fifties comic-book cover.

CRUMB
It’s a Classics Illustrated! I had to argue with them to let me call it “illustrated.” They wanted to call it The Book of Genesis According to R. Crumb but I preferred “illustrated by.” I wanted a humbler position. It’s an illustration job, OK? Illustration has a bad name in modern culture because for decades artists who were “mere illustrators” were considered inferior to fine artists. Being an illustrator was looked down upon. It meant you were not really a creative person, you just had the technical skills that you were lending to someone else’s ideas. It’s all bullshit though—the fine-art world, the myth of the creative genius artist.

Monday, September 3, 2012

'Nico's Children' by Jack



Baby I've been waiting for you
In the housing benefit queue
I've been waiting for the light
That's set to end us all
I've been thinking
What these hands could do
Let loose upon you
Set free inside you
Honey, undress me for the last time
Put me to sleep in the daytime
Tonight you're ugly and I'm worse
But we're both victims of this thirst
When the sunlight turns to snow
When these lights are turned down low
It won't be poetry
Just poverty
Like so
Nico's children
Follow me like flies
Needlepoint arms
And nothing in their eyes
Come home to me early
Say that you'll save me
So sunny and dirty
Oh swear you won't spare me
The last in a line of beautiful mistakes
Together we'd never make it
Straight out of here

[N.B. If you are waiting in the housing benefit queue, I advise you to bring a book, and also to expect that when you do eventually talk to someone, that person will claim that the information you gave on your previous three visits - during which you saw three other people - is not recorded in the system, and consequently nothing has been done about it.]

Friday, August 31, 2012

'Studies in Hysteria' by Sigmund Freud and Joseph Breuer; 'The Unconcious' by Sigmund Freud

The Studies in Hysteria contains several of Freud's earliest case histories, and would be worth reading for that alone (their tentative and evolving format can be contrasted with the later case histories collected in the Penguin volume named after The Wolfman). The Studies are also the earliest attempt to theorise the 'talking cure' that Freud developed in collaboration with Joseph Breuer. This book is therefore the foundational text of psychoanalysis, although many of its ideas were later abandoned (for example, Freud is still using hypnosis for the earlier cases, and also ... massage!)

The collection of essays on The Unconscious includes later elaborations of some of the ideas introduced in the Studies. These essays are more concise and focused than the Studies; but they are also more abstract.

Freudian theory is often presumed to validate the concept of a fugue state: that is a split consciousness, which was a common symptom of hysteria. In fact, Freud's work opposed the prevailing view that Hysteria is a form of mental disintegration characterized by the tendency to to a permanent and complete split of the personality (this formulation is from Pierre Janet, The Mental State of Hystericals, 1894).

Even so, in the Studies, Freud and Breuer do repeat the then-accepted dictum that hypnosis is artificial hysteria (SiH, p. 15); and that, during a hysterical attack, a hypnoid consciousness has taken hold of the subject’s entire existence (SiH, p. 18). The therapeutic value of hypnosis was therefore due to a principle of resemblance between illness and cure. With the patient under hypnosis, the psychologist could communicate directly with her illness.

After 1900, as Freud developed both his theory of the unconscious and the therapeutic method of free association, he grew increasingly sceptical, not only of hypnosis, but of the whole concept of a double conscience. What we have within us, he argued, is not a second consciousness, but psychic acts that are devoid of consciousness (TU, p. 54). Thus the known cases of ‘double conscience’ (split consciousness) can most accurately be described as cases of a splitting of psychic activity into two groups, with the same consciousness alternating between the two sites (TU, p. 54). Similarly, in 'A Note on the Unconscious in Psychoanalysis' (1912), Freud again asserted that:

If philosophers find difficulties in accepting the existence of unconscious ideas, the existence of an unconscious consciousness seems to me even more objectionable. The cases described as splitting of consciousness ... might better be described as shifting of consciousness, - that function – or whatever it be – oscillating between the two psychical complexes which become conscious and unconscious in alternation.

Even in the Studies, while Breuer is confident that hypnoid states are the cause and condition of many, indeed most, of the major and complex hysterias, Freud is reluctant to concede full agency (that is, a truly independent existence) to unconscious ideas, which do not, therefore, 'belong' to an independent consciousness, but rather are removed from consciousness, as in this account of the influence of such ideas on Fräulein Elisabeth von R. (p. 168):

the love for her brother-in-law was present as a kind of foreign body in her consciousness, which had not entered into any relation with the rest of her ideational life. What presented itself, as regards this inclination, was the peculiar state of at once knowing and not knowing, that is, the state of the detached psychical group. This is all that is meant when we assert that this inclination was not ‘clearly conscious’ to her; it is not meant to indicate an inferior quality or a lesser degree of consciousness, but rather a detachment from any free associative traffic of thought with the ideational content.

The question of fugue states remains important in medicine today because of multiple personality disorder, a diagnosis that dates back to the heyday of hysteria, but has increased greatly in frequency in recent years, especially in America. In the Studies, Freud was exploring the idea that hysteria derives from repressed memories of sexual abuse. This is now thought to be an essential precondition for multiple personality disorder too. The later Freud seems to have abandoned (or at least ceased to emphasise) this presumed connection between sexual abuse and dissociation.

My new novel Reciprocity Failure features several actions carried out in a fugue state, although in the novel, these states are chemically-induced: that is, they are blackouts caused by alcohol and / or Stilnox / Ambien (which is in fact classified as a ‘hypnotic’ drug). In a blackout, the affected person performs actions of which they later retain no memory. In cases of extreme intoxication, there also may be considerable impairment of motor functions and perception, and observable personality changes. Oddly, there is very little theoretical discussion of such chemical blackouts (even though they are a well-attested phenomenon). In particular, the available discussion rarely relates blackouts to psychoanalytic theory. Perhaps this is because blackouts are treated as examples of short-term memory loss rather than dissociation; or perhaps it is because they have an identifiable physiological cause, and are always temporary. They therefore require no theoretical explanation.

Interestingly, the foundational literary account of multiple personality disorder - that is, Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (on which, more soon) - also attributes the protagonist's transformation to chemical manipulation rather than hysterical dissociation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

'The Psychopathology of Everyday Life' by Sigmund Freud

I have been reading a lot of Freud recently, in the new Penguin translations. The previous, so-called ‘standard edition’, created under the direction of James Strachey, was much concerned with the status of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline, and Strachey sought to promote this status by coining several technical neologisms, where Freud had preferred to adapt idiomatic German terms. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in (arguably) Freud’s most popular book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which, even on the title page, is making a far-reaching argument: that the insights gained from treating neurotic and hysteric patients could be applied to a general theory of mind. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is also famous for introducing us to the idea of the Freudian slip, for which Strachey coined the ugly word 'parapraxis'.

A parapraxis is a meaningful mistake, through which we reveal something unintentionally. In it, we carry out an unconscious intention, which manifests itself as [a] disturbance to other, intentional actions (p. 183); the consequence (in, for example, the variant of this process involving a memory lapse, which affects a neutral thought, but one that is linked symbolically to a repressed idea) is that my act of volition failed to find its target, and I unintentionally forgot one idea while I intentionally meant to forget the other (p. 8).

The word Freud coins in German for this double or divided action is Fehlleistung, which, as Paul Keegan points out in his introduction, simultaneously suggests achievement or accomplishment (Leistung) and failure, errance (fehl-) (p. xxxviii). Keegan goes on to quote Bruno Bettelheim on the semantic connotations of this compound word:

When we think of a mistake we feel that something has gone wrong, and when we refer to an accomplishment we approve of it. In Fehlleistung, the two responses become somehow merged: we both approve and disapprove. Fehlleistung is much more than an abstract concept: it’s a term that gives German readers an immediate, intuitive feeling of admiration for the cleverness and ingenuity of the unconscious processes, without the reader’s losing sight of the fact that the end result of those processes is a mistake. For example, when we make an error in talking we frequently feel that what is said is right, though we also somehow know it is wrong. When we forget an appointment, we know that forgetting it was an error, but also feel that somehow we probably wanted to avoid keeping the appointment. Perhaps the best rendering of Fehlleistung would be ‘faulty achievement’. [Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (London, 1983), pp. 85ff.]

Elsewhere, I have seen 'faulty achievement’ rendered as ‘mischievement’, which fortuitously suggests ‘mischief’ as well as ‘mistake’. The only problem in the new Penguin edition is that the translator, Andrea Bell, having excluded the option of using the word 'parapraxis', has made it difficult to determine when Freud is using Fehlleistung, and when he is using some other construction.

I am reading Freud as research for my novel, Reciprocity Failure, which is concerned (among other things) with two modernist theories of consciousness (I know, I know, it sounds like a bestseller already). The first  is that of phenomenology, which identifies the essential aspects of consciousness as ‘intentionality’ (consciousness is always directed towards something, and is therefore always ‘full of’ something) and ‘givenness’ (we should take seriously how things present themselves directly to consciousness: that is, we should take appearance seriously); the second is that of psychoanalysis, which, famously, posits the existence of an unconscious, to which we do not have direct access. Phenomenology is very much in the Cartesian tradition (as is existentialism, to which it is closely related); and for Descartes, consciousness is self-evidently transparent to itself, and is an independent realm of being. Freud offers us a radical critique of this model of the self, even if Freud’s theory of perception is oddly indebted to Descartes (for example, in the premise that perception happens in the mind).

Keegan’s excellent introductory essay to the Penguin edition of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is both a consummate exercise in epigrammatic style (e.g. The this-world of the parapraxis offers only fugitive scenarios of the possible, and Everyday Life is a host of walk-ons: here comes everybody [p. xxiii]) and an attempt to restore Freud’s text to its immediate historical context in turn of the century bourgeois Vienna (in the process implicitly denying the text’s claims to universality). Thus Keegan points out that the public settings of Freud’s anecdotes are train carriages, health spas, doctors’ waiting rooms, and parlours. However, since I am interested in Freud as a modernist, I take him at his own estimation, not as a product of a particular historical moment, but as the creator of a general model of consciousness.

Freud's is a modernist theory, but it is also, in a sense, the origin of the postmodern strategies of deconstruction, whose methods are certainly derived from those of psychoanalysis. For example, it was Freud who infamously determined that whenever a patient says one thing, this may be taken by the analyst to mean the exact opposite. So one obvious interpretive move for texts written by Freud is to hoist them on their own petard and deconstruct them.

With this in mind, I am particularly interested in the question of agency in Freud. Where is agency located in the split intention of a Freudian slip, or, to put this differently, how is it possible to make a mistake deliberately? On p. 139 of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud concludes that A structure of multiple stratified agencies can be seen as the architectonic principle of the mental apparatus [emphasis in the original], alluding to the unconscious, but this merely defers the need for an explanation. If there is a split between the conscious and unconscious, who mediates between the two, and determines what belongs to the territory of each? Someone must be doing it, and that someone must of necessity have access to both realms.

In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, the question of who commits the slip is obfuscated or answered with circumlocutions. For example, on p. 212, writing about substitutions when reading a text aloud, Freud observes that Co-operation on the part of the verbal material alone both facilitates and limits determination of the mistake: here, therefore, agency lies partly in the text that the slipper misreads or mispronounces, which thereby 'assists' his hidden intention. But, cooperation with who?

Elsewhere, Freud refers to a mysterious 'censor', who is not, I think, identical with either the unconscious or the superego. Who is the censor? Who is censoring? Freud's answer might be: The question is a category error. The censor is not a person - not a 'someone' who wields agency.

So Freud doesn’t dispose of agency; he displaces it, or perhaps misplaces it, as in the Freudian slip itself.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Forthcoming Posts

I'll shortly begin a series of posts on works I've been reading recently. I aim to post one or two such entries a week over the coming months.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Video from Azoth Books

Here's a video from the Taiwanese publisher of Five Wounds, Azoth Books:



I have no idea whatsoever what the interviewee is saying, but I'm sure it's very intelligent!

Re: previous Five Wounds videos in English, here's an interview I did for The Wheeler Centre.

And here's some other introductory videos and a trailer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reciprocity Failure Reading List

The following is a selection of things I've been reading (or viewing) as part of the research for my novel-in-progress, Reciprocity Failure. It might give some indication of the book's themes:

Photography Books (a selection thereof):
Diane Arbus, Diane Arbus
David Bate, Photography and Surrealism
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
Brassaï, Paris after Dark
Brassaï, The Secret Paris of the 30s
Geoff Dyer, The Ongoing Moment
Walker Evans, American Photographs
Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs
John Szarkowski, The Photographer’s Eye
Ian Walker, City Gorged with Dreams: Surrealism and Documentary Photography in Interwar Paris
Marja Warehime, Brassaï: Images of Culture and the Surrealist Observer

Literature:
Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant
Nicholson Baker, Vox
Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door
Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye
Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen
Charles Baudelaire, Artificial Paradises
Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, etc.
Andre Breton, Nadja
Joseph Brodsky, Watermark
Albert Camus, The Fall
Teju Cole, Open City
Evan S. Connell, Diary of a Rapist
Robert Dessaix, Night Letters
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground
Marguerite Duras, The Lover
Marguerite Duras, The Malady of Death
Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Ross Gibson, The Summer Exercises
Patrick Hamilton, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky
Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
Kate Holden, In My Skin: A Memoir
Kate Holden, The Romantic: Italian Nights and Days
Krissy Kneen, Affection: A Memoir of Love, Sex and Intimacy
Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Anais Nin, Delta of Venus
Anais Nin, A Spy in the House of Love
Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Suzanne Portnoy, The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker
Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie
Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark
Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz
W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
W. G. Sebald, Vertigo
Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Walter, My Secret Life
Kate Zambreno, Green Girl

Criticism:
Susan Blackmore, Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction
Taylor Carman, Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Rosalyn Diprose and Jack Reynolds (eds), Merleau-Ponty: Key Concepts
Sigmund Freud and Joseph Breuer, Studies in Hysteria
Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings
Sigmund Freud, [the Dora case]
Sigmund Freud, Interpreting Dreams
Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny and Other Writings
Sigmund Freud, The Unconscious
Sigmund Freud, The Wolfman and Other Cases
Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought
Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions
Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious
Elizabeth M. Legge, Max Ernst: The Psychoanalytic Sources
David Lenson, On Drugs
Michael Lewis and Tanja Staehler, Phenomenology: An Introduction
Patrick Maynard, The Engine of Visualization: Thinking Through Photography
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Basic Writings
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
David Papineau and Howard Selina, Consciousness: A Graphic Guide
Otto Rank, The Double
Clive Scott, The Spoken Image: Photography and Language
Susan Sontag, [various essays]
Cathryn Vasseleu, Textures of Light: Vision and Touch in Irigaray, Levinas, and Merleau-Ponty

Movies:
Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow-Up
Robert Bresson, A Man Escaped
Robert Bresson, Pickpocket
Patrice Chéreau, Intimacy
Federico Fellini, Casanova
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo
Steve McQueen, Shame
Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now
Matthew Saville, Noise
A lot of films by Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese, but especially Taxi Driver
Luchino Visconti, Death in Venice
Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cartesian Blues and Reciprocity Failure

This blog is still in hibernation, but only because I am busy doing other things. I’m currently working on two books.

The first, Cartesian Blues, is a graphic memoir (this neologism was perhaps coined for Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and indicates an autobiographical narrative told in comic-book format). Cartesian Blues is a collaboration with Dan Hallett, who is creating all the images (which means, among other things, that he has to draw me repeatedly: sorry Dan!). It's about ... well, I don’t wish to say at this stage, but it concerns empathy and embodied identity, and, as the title implies, it's also a critique of Cartesian dualism. Thus my mind and my body appear in it as separate characters. Below is a character sketch of my body, by Dan.

Body

My contribution to this work is complete, apart from editorial input, but it will be some time before Dan finishes drawing it. The finished work will be c. 250 pages.

The second book, called Reciprocity Failure, is a novel illustrated with my own photographs (see www.letusburnthegondolas.com), set in Venice and Sydney. Inspired in part by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Reciprocity Failure draws on Nietzsche’s idea of the opposition between the Apollonian and Dionysian to explore the relationship between artistic inspiration and sexual obsession. To exemplify a theme of doubling, separate Venice and Sydney narratives are told in parallel, alternating chapters, and are also intercut with examples of my photographs, which in the novel are attributed to a fictional protagonist.

The Künstlerroman (a novel describing an artist’s progress) is a recognised genre, but most works of this kind deliberately exclude selections from the aesthetic artefacts created by their protagonists. One notable exception to this rule is the work of A. S. Byatt, who, in Possession, famously invented excerpts of poetry, which she then attributed to her Victorian characters (Byatt’s subsequent novels adopt a similar strategy, which makes her the author of a wide variety of texts attributed to fictional authors, which are nestled within the works that bear her name). It is, however, unprecedented (I think) to supply original examples of visual art in this way.

I am not far off finishing a first draft of Reciprocity Failure, of about 95,000 words, which I anticipate will shrink to about 75,000 words in the editing. It may, however, be some time before it’s ready for submission.

I’ll resume more detailed discussion here at some indefinite future date when I have actual news.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chinese Edition of Five Wounds

A Chinese edition of Five Wounds was recently released in Taiwan by Azoth Books. It looks amazing (there are several interior views of page layouts at this local book site).

Cover of Chinese Translation of Five Wounds

There are more pix at Dan's Blog.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Five Wounds: Review at 'Spike Magazine'

A belated mention for a review of Five Wounds by Declan Tan for Spike Magazine, for whom I also wrote a short piece on the design of the book a while ago. Here's an extract from the review:

Not every book looks and feels like an artefact when you pick it up. Oftentimes it is just words printed across cheap paper, the literal form of it separated from its content, cased in a merely functional cover with some gluey binding. But with Five Wounds, an “illuminated novel”, the very object itself is part of its mythology and there is a sense of something big, something heavy within it, if you have the time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Away thou, black dog, fierce and wild

Sleep, baby, sleep!
Away! and tend the sheep,
Away, thou black dog, fierce and wild,
And do not wake my little child!
Sleep, baby, sleep!

(From a collection of nursery rhymes published in 1900)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One false move, and I shoot you

None more existential clip from Jean-Pierre Melville's great film about the French Resistance, Army of Shadows: