Monday, January 01, 2007

Something to widen a child's eyes

There are a large number of miracles attributed to the Sufi mystic and poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207 - 1273) whose tomb can be found in the Turkish city of Konya.

"Mevlana gölde bir su yaratığının yaşadığını ve her yıl bir insanı ya da bir hayvanı alıp su altına gittiğini duymuş. Görmek için göle gitmiş. Mevlana soyunmadan suya girmiş, su yaratığını karaya cıkarmış. Yüzü insana, ayakları ayınınkine benzeyen canavar herkesin anlayacağı dille yakında bir genci öldürdüğünü ama tövbe ettiğini söyleyip af dilemiş. Mevlana onu bağışlamış, canavar da suya dalıp kaybolmuş."

Rumi has heard that a monstrous creature dwells in a lake and that every year it captures a man or an animal and drags it down to the depths. So he goes to the lake with his companions to investigate. He enters the water fully clothed and brings the creature to dry land. The monster, whose face is like a human's but whose legs are like a bear's, confesses in a language understood by all that he has recently killed a young boy but promises never to do it again and appeals for forgiveness. Rumi pardons him and the monster dives back into the water and vanishes from sight.

from Ariflerin Menkıbeleri (16th century), although I sourced it from the THY Turkish Airlines in-flight magazine. A beautiful miniature from Topkapı Palace which illustrates this scene will appear as soon as I can scan it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

No substitute for panto

The Optera, a species of apterous butterfly who find safety in underground caves. They talk like comedy samurai and at the end of every sentence they give a little jump.

Wouldn't the new Doctor Who be better on a hundredth of the budget? They have barely enough money and they waste it. At some point the designers seem to have stopped stealing from African and Meso-American art and started relying on their own imaginations. Are they incurious somehow? Shy of thoughtlessly plundering another's sacred images? Too proud to resort to them?

Doubtless marketing considerations have sawn the legs from their imaginations. It seems they can't allow themselves to think outside the design confines of the surrounding commercial medium. Everyone involved acts the fool, presumably to avoid appearing undignified in the eyes of the sales figures.

As ever the cheaper the effect, the more believable it is. In this respect, Dr Who is as believable as ever. I just feel antipathetic to the world it reflects, although surely by now everyone must be sick of the cross-promotion.

I like the way J. H. Prynne writes in his Tips on Reading for Students of English, "When you read and sing to your young children at bed-time, and buy them picture-books for their early birthdays, remember how susceptible are those of tender years and how much your example will mean to them. If you read aloud to them with humour and truth, and prefer reading matter (choose it yourself) which is not slick child-fodder even when simple and direct and pitched right for young minds; and do not allow them to be drawn into a fear or scorn of poetry, and take them all to Christmas pantos which offer sparks of witty imagination, and give good book-presents to niece and family because you shew that you care about them (both the recipients and the books); then part of the longer-term inwardness of your literary education, a far cry from writing essays and splitting critical hairs, approaches thus a fulfilment which will start to transmit deep values across the generations."

I like that, and I think it's equally true and important in terms of film or TV.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cut U Loose

Royal Trux song from 1988

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thine's like the dread mouth of a fired gun

Catherine Breillat's Anatomy of Hell and Koji Wakamatsu's 1969 film Go, Go, Second Time Virgin have angry, confrontational reputations, but as films they are both rather spare and withdrawn.

Their precise framing and stilted philosophical dialogue work to prevent them breaking down before their subject, keep it within manageable confines. They examine their symptoms, as if tracing the line of a scar with their fingertips. Both have a numbness about them that makes them seem damaged, as if working through a trauma, but they calculatedly use this quality as the seduction-bait with which to attract the viewer.

A girl is raped on the roof of an appartment block by a group of students - it is the second time she has been penetrated and she recalls her first loss of virginity, raped by two boys on the seashore. She remains on the roof after the students have finished with her, gazing at the night sky. The following morning she finds she has bled again - hence the title. She dips her finger into the blood and talks to a boy who has been watching her, and who had masturbated during her rape.

In Anatomy of Hell a Man (Rocco Siffredi) is contracted by a Woman (Amira Cesar) to observe her over four nights when she is "unwatchable"; she challenges her viewer to a kind of spiritual journey using sex as a means, to pass through disgust and anger to something beyond it. The woman provokes him and he attempts to overcome her - he daubs her with lipstick, he inserts a rake-handle into her vagina - acts of childish abuse, or an attempt to create a grotesque artwork. The woman overcomes it by staring past it, by retaining her self-containment, until Siffredi understands that he can never finally destroy her and he cries as she sleeps.

Catherine Breillat has said that there is something royal about the Woman, that she is "reine" and "serene". People often get annoyed with this sort of thing, and bad reviews of both films are not hard to find. The woman with the rake in her bottom has a bandage on her wrist, a badge of self-disgust and self-absorption. The former disgust, its first spiritual level, is turned outward in the course of the film, against the men who have inflicted it. She remembers her childhood, and the faces of the boys playing doctor to her patient.

The same oafishness and incomprehension in these faces as in those of the students -

The raped girl talks with the watching boy, who is impotent except when he masturbates. He has a memory of sexual trauma, of being molested by a nightmarish group of men and women, grabbing at his trousers and writhing amongst themselves - the men retaining their ugly glasses in the way that actors always seem to do in porn films - if not glasses, a silly hat perhaps, or a grotesque moustache.

So the boy, who turns out to be a published poet, kills them all and arranges their bodies in a sculptural pattern. And the girl, who is merely repelled by the sight of their corpses, walks forward into the camera and shouts her defiance, her final declaration: Bakayaro! Bakayaro!, loosely but fairly translated in the subtitles of the Image Entertainment edition as Fuck you! Fuck you! - or fools, or oafs, as one could also translate it. At the end of the film the boy and girl commit suicide, throwing themselves from the roof of the tower block. At the conclusion of Anatomy of Hell, while Rocco Siffredi walks alone by the sea or tells lies about her to the boys in the bar, the Woman is cast/casts herself from a cliff into a violent sea - a flash of gothic white and she is gone.

Both Breillat and Wakamatsu are political radicals, and Breillat at least seems to hope that her films can effect change, might lead forward to a world where they are no longer so necessary. But in both films the conclusion is death, either a return to the ocean, or as in Go, Go, Second Time Virgin, a strange geometrical emptiness, the bodies resting on either side of a white line.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The disenchanter

"I don't care about the audience"
Lucio Fulci

Even his fans often find Lucio Fulci's films unsatisfactory; there is usually as much to annoy as there is to please. Sometimes the most flattering reviews contain statements of exasperation or impatience; Fulci films are films for which allowances have to be made.

This is of course precisely why they are so valuable. Fulci had lost interest in go-ahead plot by the early seventies. A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) is on the one hand a police procedural. It is also a study of repression and psychosis not so very different in some respects to Repulsion. But while the film contains a number of dream sequences, the most interesting scenes are those in which the madness of authority integrates itself seamlessly into the private madness of the central character. Carol Hammond is a rich young woman accused of a murder which she had seen herself committing in a dream. While recuperating in a private psychiatric clinic, Carol is chased by a young man who has been hiding in the grounds. After running up some stairs she turns into a corridor with a number of anonymous white doors. Opening one, she finds herself in a vivisection laboratory in which four dogs have been suspended from metal frames and their chests cut open to expose their hearts. They whimper and try to move - the effect is very well done, and comes as a shock to the viewer. Much effort has obviously been expended on the scene, and for what? It adds nothing to the plot - Carol faints to the ground and wakes up in her hospital bed to receive an apology from her doctor, the 'reality' of what she had seen being confirmed. The film then moves on. The viewer is left with the memory of something terrible intruding itself, minimally contextualised - suddenly the film has become more serious, but it is still in no sense a 'serious' film. Of course psychiatric authority is mad/Carol is mad/the dogs are Carol, but the scene is boldest for the way it disrupts the background setting of the 'murder mystery' and forces the viewer's attention. Fulci's scenes of violence (his 'trademark') are always gratuitous, never assimilable into the film as a whole. They are, notoriously, what the fans fast-forward to reach, and by their grotesque power they indelibly stain and highlight the boring bits around them.

Fulci's films are a patchwork, they stop and start, violence erupts out of nowhere and vanishes as quickly as it came. His films are exasperating because they refuse to be consoling. Some film makers like to claim that by showing that "violence has consequences", that "when you sock someone on the jaw, they don't just get up again", they will deny the audience their consoling illusions and force them to reflect on their own capacity for sadism. This is itself a most pernicious illusion. Nothing could be more consoling than to believe that each act of violence is followed by a moralising chain of consequences, or more flattering to the audience than to pretend that they need to be told people bleed when they're hurt. Film makers who reason in such a way are either I suspect in futile pursuit of a prophylaxis - an ultimate act of reportage which will permamently exorcise its viewers' capacity for hatred - or merely pornographers with an incidental taste for the stripped-down and raw. Violence in a Fulci film cannot end in false consolation because it is always uncontextualised - it disrupts the viewer's enjoyment, it makes no sense, it is never explained or exorcised. It cannot titillate because it is either too fantastic, too absurd for belief, or because it is so detailed and explicit that it leaves the viewer himself with no sense of private space from which he can gaze secretly and with pleasure - it is too obvious. Film violence starts to lose its dignity when gazed at for too long - the special effects give out, credibility is lost, or the audience start to find it merely tasteless.

By the time Fulci made The House by the Cemetery (1981), he was no longer interested in providing his audience with the consolations of a resolved plot or coherent motivation. Indeed, House is perhaps his most outrageous film in this respect. Ann the baby sitter has been acting suspiciously. The morning after a visiting estate agent was stabbed through the neck and dragged through the kitchen, we see Ann with a rag and bucket mopping up the blood from the floorboards. Lucy Boyle, the film's wife and mother, has now woken up and comes into the kitchen for her coffee. She makes no comment at all about the enormous blood stain, and she and Ann discuss trivia. It is a scene which many people seem to get indignant about - it is insolent. Of course it can be explained - it symbolises Lucy's capacity for self-deception with regard to the problems in her family, it is a satirical representation of somebody who refuses to see what they don't want to accept - in Lucy's case, her husband's affair with Ann, but these are merely plodding attempts at explication. The principal function of this scene is to disable the viewer's capacity for uncomplicated enjoyment.

In Fulci's 1975 western Four of the Apocalypse the scene abruptly and fantastically shifts from a scorched 'western' landscape to a snow-covered mountain village (filmed in Austria) inhabited entirely by men. Into this society comes professional card-sharp Stubby Preston, on the run from the villains with his pregnant girlfriend Bunny. Bunny is the only female in the village, and after giving birth to a boy, she dies, and the village returns to its all-male state. Stubby leaves the boy in the care of the villagers and returns to the desert. He rides alone. The ending seems set to be consolingly bleak. But as Stubby rides into the distance a little dog starts to follow him, yapping endearingly. The viewer is shocked, almost revolted. The hero has set out alone, but accompanied by a little dog! It is the film's last sudden and disrupting reversal of tone. After all the death and misery portrayed in Four of the Apocaplypse, Fulci refuses to sentimentalise or moralise. Since 'refusing to sentimentalise' is itself a form of sentimentality, the only way Fulci can do this is by introducing the figure of the little dog. The emptiness of the earlier deaths emerge retrospectively in all their bleakness. By ruining the film's expected smooth melancholy closure, everything one has had cause to be melancholy about - the victims of guns or disease - are suddenly recalled to mind, just when the logic of genre expectation would have buried them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Don't Torture Donald Duck

Lucio Fulci's 1972 giallo Don't Torture a Duckling (Non si Sevizia un Paperino) is not his first 'anti-clerical' film - both his comedy The Eroticist (1972) and the historical drama (his favourite among his movies) Beatrice Cenci (1969) contain villainous priests. However the principal subject of Don't Torture a Duckling - the twisted relationship between a priest and his boys - is a particularly difficult and unpleasant one, and caused a certain amount of controversy in Italy upon its release. It makes an interesting contrast with Pedro Almodovar's 2004 film La Mala Educacion (Bad Education), if only because Almodovar and Fulci seem to have such contrasting artistic sensibilities. For example it strikes me that one of Almodovar's defining characteristics is his complete lack of moral severity; in the case, for example, of the miracle baby in All About My Mother 'cured' of HIV, it is as if even the material fact of disease has to retreat before the director's compulsive geniality. In Bad Education, the memories of 'abuse' seem to be memories of something far more ambiguous; one watches with alternating pity and amusement the chance wanderings of people 'following their heart'. Sometimes it leads them to molesting boys, sometimes to murder, and the tears his films unfailingly provoke (at least in me) seem to bubble up from the surface and remain there - by the end of the film my tears have dried up completely, tired of appearing for nothing. Almodovar's camera glosses everything it sees, and he seems to be guided more by pattern and colour composition than by angle or framing. Fulci's eye, on the other hand, curdles everything it sees - anything 'beautiful' at any rate. One watches a Fulci film dry-eyed, despite his repeated presentations of violence and trauma. He uses the position of the camera to definine the moral and emotional weight of his scenes; each shot is a judgement, an act of involvement. The agoraphobic wide-angle compositions of white painted houses and unpaved streets in Don't Torture a Duckling are infused with anger and distaste. Fulci either keeps his distance, shooting from a height, or zooms in as if to point his finger, for example, at a black-clad old woman or a high shuttered window.

Don't Torture a Duckling depicts the murders of young boys somewhere in Southern Italy, strangled or struck with a blow to the head, and follows the police investigation (aided by a visiting journalist from the big city). Suspicion falls on the village idiot, the local witch Maciara, and a beautiful drug-addicted Milanese girl before the real perpetrator is discovered. The plot is involved and complex, in the usual giallo style; it exposes a strange network of complicity and corruption. At moments of repressed emotional tension, of which there are many, Fulci often switches to a hand-held camera. As he alternates between empathetic rage and sardonic moral judgement (as in the chain-whipping and killing of the 'witch' Maciara) he switches between fixed and hand-held shots in a way which conveys the conflicted emotions of the viewer - prurience and revulsion - as much as it does the contrasting perspectives of victim and assailant. The murder of Maciara is Don't Torture a Duckling's most 'celebrated' scene and was a great influence on the ear-slicing sequence in Reservoir Dogs, but the critical thing which so many admirers of Fulci miss is that in Fulci's case this is political. One so often comes across films inspired by directors like Fulci which merely accentuate the blood and entrails (necessary and exciting though they may be) while being utterly deaf to the political content of the originals.

I wonder if Almodovar ever saw Don't Torture a Duckling...? Both films are expertly photographed - in the case of Don't Torture a Duckling the greys and whites of stone and earth contrast with the colours of night rain and a beautiful neon-lit interior scene, but with Fulci rich colour is almost always associated with bodily or moral corruption - he is bitterly suspicious of the sensual. They both contain scenes of boys playing football under priestly supervision, but in Fulci's case he chooses to intercut a scene of boys dressed in white on a green field (in heaven?) with that of a priest falling to his death, his face torn by jutting rocks. Desire and its punishment - an unhappy obsession with purity, and its gleefully filmed consequence in the material collision of stone and skin. In an Almodovar film, death or addiction mean nothing as none of it is really anything more than a play; it's as if, with Wallace Stevens, "the final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else." Fulci presents the most outrageous fiction, but grounds its presentation in material squalor; by means of genre and fantasy he conveys the desolation of a world where no escape into fiction is possible. His protagonists in The House by the Cemetery and The Beyond find themselves trapped within the confines of an intruding, ever-narrowing fictional world, in the same way that hard material circumstances or the material fact of death confine or entrap people in their real lives. The image of the white-clad boys playing football at the conclusion of Don't Torture a Duckling mocks the priest's idea of heaven and his idea of purity; the character of the priest's retarded younger sister - on whom the discovery of the culprit turns - mocks his conception of divine justice. The priests in Bad Education are clearly homosexual and motivated by desire, whereas Don Alberto in Don't Torture a Duckling is, as far as I understand the film, celibate and heterosexual by inclination: he murders his boys to protect them from the corruption of women. But the key difference between the films is not in the end the incidentals of the motivating psychology of their villains, but that for Almodovar, desire is a life-giving and creative force, however it may mock and expose those who succumb to it, but that for Fulci desire is an absurdity, that corrupts what it touches and is terminated by death. Fulci simply portrays the waste. No poppies grow out of it.

Of course I prefer Fulci to Almodovar, and not merely because I feel attracted to Fulci's sourness. I think it may be because it's Fulci in the end who seems to point a way out. In Fulci movies doors open up and horrors suddenly emerge from them, or doors appear and lead back to where you came from - to sightless oblivion. His films are full of exits and entrances. If I lived in the world of an Almodovar movie, I might never want to leave it. It would be like choosing darkness over sunlight. But by making his art so cold and allowing no successful escape from the world he presents, Fulci makes the viewer conscious of the confines of the real world and of its material limits. Whether the characters in his movies or the viewer outside can overcome them is a question left unanswered, but it is a question his films constantly provoke. Do the violent-minded, corrupt and superstitious townspeople in Don't Torture a Duckling have any way of reforming their society without modernity simply imposing itself upon them and bringing a new cycle of exploitation? Fulci gives no hint that they can and offers no sentimental dreams about this world or the next. Nothing. That is maybe why his films are so provocative and inspiring. One has to wring the politics out of them. It can be found, for example, in his obsession with doors, bridges, fractures, caves and passageways; each contains a body decomposing, or a skeleton.

And that hints at perhaps the most important question Fulci raises. To what extent is a progressive politics, an ethical life really conceivable, set against the individual reality of bodily decay and death, the final material limit?

Leftcenterleft has a discussion of the movie and some screenshots.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Easy mistakes to make

A time for angry tears and regrets. In a speech to Khmer Rouge cadres on the Thai-Cambodian border, Pol Pot compared his Democratic Kampuchean government to a baby taking its first steps and not unnaturally acting clumsily and ending up breaking things. One always imagines, for example, that 6o0,000 people would be quite hard to kill. But let loose a giant baby, and things can deteriorate surprisingly quickly. 750,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the American B52 raids inside Cambodia in pursuit of Viet Cong infiltrators, a slaughter which was of course decisive in strengthening the Khmer Rouge. 750,000 is a conservative estimate of the numbers killed as a matter of policy (rather than 'inadvertently' through famine) during Pol Pot's time in power.

Vanity Fair collects second thoughts from Richard Perle and other like-minded fainthearts while Giorgio Fabretti appeals on behalf of the Save Pol Pot Fund

Pol Pot spoke as the representative of the military. He says that he knows that many people in the country hate him and think he's responsible for the killings. He said that he knows many people died. When he said this he nearly broke down and cried. He said he must accept responsibility because the line was too far to the left, and because he didn't keep proper track of what was going on. He said he was like the master in a house who didn't know what the kids were up to, and that he trusted people too much. For example, he allowed Chhim Samauk to take care of central committee business for him, and Sao Phim to take care of political education... These were people to whom he felt very close, and he trusted them completely. Then in the end... they made a mess of everything. ...They would tell him things that were not true, that everything was fine, but that this person or that was a traitor. In the end they were the real traitors.

from Brother Number One by David Chandler, pg. 171

Friday, November 03, 2006

An Interview with Antonella Fulci

Part One of four posted on you-tube.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

from His Toy, His Dream, His Rest

My eyes with which I see so easily
will become closed. My friendly heart will stop.
I won't sit up.
Nose me, soon you won't like it - ee -
worse than a pesthouse; and my thought all gone
& the vanish of the sun.

The vanish of the moon, which Henry loved
on charming nights when Henry young was moved
by delicate ladies
with ripped-off panties, mouths open to kiss.
They say the coffin closes without a sound
& is lowered underground!

So now his thought's gone, buried his body dead,
what now about the adorable Little Twiss
& his fair lady,
will they set up a tumult in his praise
will assistant professors become associates
by working on his works?

John Berryman, Dream Song 373

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lucio Fulci


Andrei Tarkovsky, while he worked in Italy on Nostalgia, attended a screening of Lucio Fulci's first and most celebrated horror film Zombie Flesheaters, and described it in his diary as "ghastly, repulsive trash".

One thing that I like about films is that there really are no respectable ones, none that are quite gentlemen - not even Tarkovsky, although he comes perilously close. There isn't a clear canon, no films that one simply has to have seen to account oneself educated, and I think we just about find it possible to love anything, reject anything, and not stoop to forcing an interest. And film critics are so fallible - people like David Thomson write with as little (or as arbitrarily minute) an attention to detail and as much offhand authority as someone like Pliny the Elder, and it makes them both irritating and unintimidating - it keeps the field open. I like the wretched disservice it does to directors like Lucio Fulci, director of A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Don't Torture a Duckling, City of the Living Dead, The New York Ripper - unannotated, unassimilated, uncontained within any respectable bounds.

Fulci himself had a complex and divided attitude to his own work. On the one hand he knew he was a hack, working in a variety of popular genres: comedies, thrillers, westerns, horror - whatever made money. On the other, he saw himself as the student of Visconti, the heir of Bunuel, a man attracted to the structures of genre but compelled by a mixture of wilfulness and artistic seriousness to sabotage them. He is well known in this respect for directing two thirds of a film "with his left hand", as the Italians say, and then suddenly spoiling the fun with something jarring, something felt, something truthfully disquieting. I like his work very much, although I started out by despising it. The moment came after sitting through The House by the Cemetery one rainy afternoon and suddenly wondering, what if this apparent incompetence is actually artfulness, what if - just suppose - Fulci knows what he's doing?

I find the shock of the new first communicates itself to me as ineptitude, and the contempt I feel causes me to replay the thing over and over again in my mind as an exhibit for derision until I become half-guiltily conscious of my fascination. The choice is either to reject it with a sort of Stalinist moral sternness, or to submit to it like an infection and see what it makes of me.

Fulci is famous (among horror fans) for what, exactly?

For an obsession with eyeballs and their mutilation, for longueurs punctuated by scenes of grotesque violence, for derivative, badly acted, structureless films which for some reason find themselves banned under the provisions of the Video Recordings Act and accrue themselves an undeserved cult reputation. Only.... Fulci suddenly reminded me now of John Berryman and the Dream Songs, language hacked into pieces, loudmouthed and half-ful of it, grandiose and threadbare, threatening suicide. And I want in the next few posts to focus on a few of Lucio Fulci's films, my favourites, and elucidate some of their virtues (to speak tiptoeingly like I'm critiquing Berryman or someone).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Idling over

Been watching Breakfast at Tiffany's. I had no idea... the wondrous horror of Mickey Rooney - not five minutes in - with his teeth from The Thing or from a figure at the base of a crucifixion. Does it sink the film completely, does anyone think, or is it an artistic choice, boldly disfiguring what would otherwise be too much like perfection? They should remake it maybe. Instead of the Jap, they could make him a terrorist trying to solder the wires between prayer sessions. Talking of commercial cinema, I notice that first prize in the ultimatebond competition available to purchasers of the James Bond Ultimate Edition is Win An Aston Martin!* So what would you do on the 364th day? Presumably they've thought of that and you won't be able to drive the thing without a minder or an electronic tag and you'll have to return it each night to dedicated secure premises miles from your home. And then there's the cost of insurance, and doubtless a depreciation charge at the time of return.

Roger Moore was 79 yesterday. Congratulations Sir Roger.

* for a year

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Love's Cross-Currents

I blog so intermittently... I just can't seem to make a habit of it, the disciplined morning habit I once hoped to cultivate. What foxes me too is this desire to communicate; one has to perch on the edge of some dissatisfaction and rock about on it. As someone said, sometimes I just look at the stars... and can't be bothered. But having recently gained more than, say, ten puzzled readers from Czechia, I feel guilty about it. Oh, but here's something so perfectly written, so intensely enjoyable and I am simply going to transcribe it. Because Algernon Charles Swinburne's A Year's Letters is out of print and no one has read it. Buy a second hand copy tonight! I recommend it to the world!

Once out in the garden, Reginald became more wonderful than ever. Any one not two years younger and half a head shorter must have doubled up with laughter before he had gone three steps. Our friend's patronage of the sunlight, his tolerance of the roses, his gentle thoughtful condescension towards the face of things in general, were too sublime for words.
When they came to the parapet of an old broad terrace, Reginald, still in a dignified way, got astride it; not without a curious grimace and some seeming difficulty in adjusting his small person: tapped his teeth with his whip-handle, and gave Frank for a whole minute the full benefit of his eyes. Frank stood twisting a rose-branch and looked meek.
The result of Reginald's scrutiny was this question, delivered with much solemn effect.
I say. Were you ever swished?
Swished? said Frank, with rapid heat in his cheeks.
Swished, said Reginald in his decisive voice. Birched.
Do you mean, flogged? Frank asked this very diffidently, as if the query singed his lips.
Well, flogged, if you like that better, said Reginald, conscious of a neat point. Flogged. But I mean a real right-down swishing, you know. If a fellow says, flogged, it may be a whip, don't you see, or a strap. That's caddish. But you can call it flogging if you like. Only not at school, mind. It's all very well before me.
Reverting from these verbal subtleties to the main point, Reginald put the grand query again, in a modified shape, but in a tone of courteous resolution, not to be evaded by any boy.
Does your father often flog you?
I never was flogged in my life, said Frank, sensible of his deep degradation.
Reginald, as a boy of the world, could stand a great deal without surprise; experience of men and things had inured him to much that was curious and out of the usual way. But at the shock of this monstrous and incredible assertion, he was thrown right off his balance. He got off the parapet, and leant his shoulders against it, and gazed upon the boy to whom birch was a dim dubious myth, a jocose threat after dinner, with eyebrows wonderfully high up and distended eyelids. Then he said; Good - God! softly and dividing the syllables, with a hushed breath.
Goaded to insanity by the big boy's astonishment, agonized by his silence, Frank tenderly put a timid foot in it.
Were you? he asked, with much awe.
Then, with straightened shoulders and raised chin, Reginald Harewood took up his parable. Some of his expressions must be forgiven to youthful excitement, and for the sake of accuracy; boys when voluble on a tender point are awfully accurate in their choice of words. Reginald was very voluble by nature, and easy to excite on this painfully personal matter.
Ah! Yes. I should think so. My good fellow, you ought to have seen me yesterday. I was swished twice in the morning. Can't you see in a man's eyes? My father is - the - most - awful - Turk. He likes to swish me - he does really. What you'll do when you go to school - (here a pause) - God knows. (This in a pensive and devout manner, touched with pity.) You'll sing out - by Jove! won't you sing out the first time you catch it? I used to. I do sometimes now. For it hurts most awfully. But I can stand a good lot of it. There were bits cut right out of me yesterday on one side. Here. And one twig stuck in the cut and I couldn't get it out for half an hour. My father can always draw blood the third or forth cut. It's ever so much worse than a whole swarm of mad bees stinging you at once. Makes a fellow tingle to the bone. At school, if you kick, or if you wince even, or if you make the least bit of row, you get six cuts over. I always did. When I was your age. The big fellows used to call me all manner of chaffy names: Pepperbottom, that was out of a book; I know the book; I bet you don't; and the Wagtail; because I used to wriggle about on the block: between each cut; I know I did. They call me Wag now, and Pepper, for short. Not the young ones, of course. I should lick them. I say, I wish you were going to school. I'd look after you. You'd be letting fellows get you into the most awful rows. Ah! wouldn't you? When I was your age I used to get swished twice a day regular. The masters spite me. I know one of them does, because he told one of the big fellows he did. At least he said I was a curse to the whole school, and I was ruining all the young ones. He did really, on my word. I was the fellow's fag that he said it to, and he called me up that night and licked me with a whip. With a whip like this. He was a most awful bully. I don't think I'll tell you what he did once to a boy. You wouldn't sleep well to-night.

from A Year's Letters (written 1862, first published in Tatler, 1877) reprinted in a beautiful annotated dark blue edition from Peter Owen Ltd., London, 1974.

Friday, September 08, 2006

"I survived. Mum took me to my Gran and Auntie in a village near Hamburg. I've been clean for 18 months. It frightens me to think of Detlev. I often think of him. I'd like to give him some of my strength, and help him. But first I need the strength myself."

Christiane speaks from beyond the grave, over an image of the countryside in winter. At the end of Christiane F we see her in a toilet cubicle injecting herself for the last time before her head slides down the tiles and out of frame. The scene fades and reopens over snow-covered fields. The recovery is moving because it comes out of nowhere and is in no sense already implicit in the events we have seen or the psychology of the characters. It's a sort of millennial redemption fantasy, moving because we know in real life, as presented on screen, it could never have happened. What is more moving than a beautiful untruth?

"And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."

(Luke 23, 42-43)

There is a complete break between the film and its coda, the same inapprehensible gap as between the squalid earthly life of the thief and his future in heaven. I find this moment of fantasy the only moving part of Christiane F. As for the rest of it, its mission is to demystify addiction, to force it to strip, in a way which leads to nothing in the end but bafflement.

In Charles Bukowski's short story Something About a Viet Cong Flag, the sadness of the washed-up drifter protagonist is conveyed all the more affectingly by describing what could never have happened, the fulfillment of his meanest hopes.

"Red pulled his switchblade and hit the button. The blade was flat across her nose, pressed it down.
'How do you think you'd look without a nose?'
She didn't answer.
'I'll slice it off.' He grinned.
'Listen,' said the guy with the flag, 'you can't get away with this.'
'Come on, girly,' said Red, pushing her towards the rocks

"... Red was fucking Sally. Leo watched. It seemed endless. Red went on and on.

"... There was a patch of shade and Sally sat between them.
'You know, though...' she said.
'It wasn't so bad. On a strictly sexual basis, I mean. He really put it to me. On a strictly sexual basis it was quite something.'
'What?' said Dale.
'I mean, morally, I hate him. The son of a bitch should be shot. He's a dog. A pig. But on a strictly sexual basis it was something...'"

Or compare John Norman's chronicles of Gor, which so many intelligent people find endearing. They bring to mind the inadequacy and sadness which adults feel if children are unmoved by attempts to frighten them. The slave-women have names like Audrey and Barbara.

"'I will try to please you,' she said.
'In Port Kar,' I said, 'a girl who is not pleasing is not unoften bound hand and foot, and thrown naked, as garbage, to the urts in the canals.'
'I will try to be pleasing,' she smiled."

from Beasts of Gor, pg. 440

Suburban loneliness is powerfully conveyed by John Norman's long elaborations of its compensating dream. In the same way, Bukowski, in stories like Rape!, Rape! and The Fuck Machine describes the sordidness of socially-constrained fantasy and its secret yearning for love.

"Yes I like being raped. I knew you were following me. I was hoping. When I got on the elevator without you, I thought you had lost your nerve. I've only been raped once before. It's hard for a beautiful woman to get a man. Everybody thinks she's unaccessible. It's hell."

from Tales of Ordinary Madness

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pol Pot on the dialectic

"Everything is interrelated. This means that all things always have influence on one another. It further means that nothing can exist by itself and has never existed by itself. Observe activities in our revolution or problems outside of the revolution. They are all in the domain of this law.

"Example: In the situation of a person who has injured a buffalo's leg. We must analyze. If we do not, the buffalo will be put in the stable and the next morning it will be let out to pasture. We must ask if the child or the old man who tends the animal injured it, or who else did; and if it was done, why? Was it unintentional, or was it to oppose the cooperative. Look for a person who has something to do with this matter, the person who tends the animal and the places where he tended the animal in order to find out if anyone other than the cowherd himself could have injured the animal. The cowherd, what composition is he, what class stand, what political stand, which milieu is his stand in contact with? If the cowherd did not injure the animal, ask him if anyone came to the place where the animal was, etc. We follow up. Following up is a measure. If we cannot find out in one or two days, we will find out in three or four days.

"A skinny cow is handled similarly. We must find out what is wrong with it. Why is it skinny, what material reason, what reason of consciousness? We raise this matter in order to illustrate the law of dialectical materialism in order to accustom our analyses to follow this law."

from Sharpen the Consciousness of the Proletarian Class to be as Keen and Strong as Possible (1976), translated and reprinted in Cambodia 1975 - 1978, ed. Karl D. Jackson

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sonic Youth (what was it anyway)

I remember as a student walking through a sun-bleached park in London and having just bought a tape cassette of Dirty and it having made no great impression, when suddenly the imstrumental section of either Sugar Kane or Teresa's Sound World rolled wondrously into my mind out of what seemed like nowhere, and Sonic Youth's music seemed utterly vital and transforming and I rushed back to my bedroom and listened to the whole album through. I remember queuing up at 08.30 outside HMV to be the first to buy Experimental Jet Set, half-worried in case it sold out - of course I was the only person in the queue. To my dismay the assistant in HMV told me that although it had been delivered, they probably wouldn't start unpacking it until after lunch. I came back in the afternoon and it still wasn't on the shelf. But anyway.

The first thing that annoyed me about Experimental Jet Set was the quote on the back cover - Once the music leaves your head it's already compromised - surely the whole problem with commodification is that it renders one's inmost thought compromised from the outset - the quote seemed like a sly way of dismissing the fact and of excusing what I feared might be a shabby compromise. Added to which I felt irritated by the artful imitation of shaky handwriting on the back cover as if the "writer" were too wasted to form a straight line on the "D", say. But the main reason for hating it was Self-Obsessed and Sexxee, Waist, and all the other songs by Thurston on the album. His obsession with strung-out teens had its full flowering on Psychic Hearts, but the worst of it began here along with the even more tedious male voyeur figure, who narrates both the above. There is something eerie and (as the ads say) wonderfully satisfying about someone - especially an attractive girl - becoming frail and wasted and gradually sinking into oblivion*, and it's a subject that Royal Trux approach with compassion and insight on Cut You Loose. But there's something nauseating about the way Moore foregrounds his voyeurism as if that alone were a sufficient self-condemnation, and something not fascinated enough about his star-struck observer. The thing I rather dislike about Christiane F is the journalistic distance the camera keeps from its subject - it's extraordinary how uncompromised the eye of the director seems to be by the attractions of his subject. Christiane has sex or shoots up before the camera and the camera watches like a waiting paramedic or a half-comprehending bystander. Although doubtless the product of great directorial tact, it's unsatisfactory somehow. Of course Moore's persona of a leering voyeur is no artistic solution either. Someone who gets it exactly right (aside from the Trux) is Paul Morrissey*** in his Trilogy and in particular in his silent short films All Aboard the Dreamland Choo Choo and Like Sleep, both available on the Flesh/Trash/Heat box set. In the first film a young man draws a Violet Wand along his body before stabbing himself in the thigh with an engraving tool; in the second a black couple inject themselves - with an old-fashioned dropper - leaving a thin trail of blood along each arm. Both films are about 10 minutes long but the action in each is extremely slow. The camera is clearly fascinated by what it sees - not only by the rituals of self-harm or addiction, but by everything in the frame, by the light and by the surface of objects. Morrissey's slow, patient observation, his fascination with the act of viewing, be it a rumpled sheet or a line of blood, gives his work not only a critical distance, but the capacity for pity. The truest compassion has its origin in the material, in the objective gaze. Compare Hippocrates, who writes in On The Sacred Disease,

"Such as are habituated to their disease have a presentiment when an attack is imminent, and run away from men, home, if their house be near, if not, to the most deserted spot, where the fewest people will see the fall, and immediately hide their heads. This is the result of shame at their malady, and not, as many hold, of fear of the divine. Young children at first fall anywhere, because they are unfamiliar with the disease; but when they have suffered several attacks, on having the presentiment they run to their mothers, or to somebody they know very well, through fear and terror at what they are suffering, since they do not yet know what shame is." (trans. WHS Jones, Loeb Vol 2)

Hippocrates wants to be among the diseased, he observes their condition and their suffering with the same rapt interest and reserved care as Morrissey exhibits in his films.

*Compare the aimiable sadism with which an anaesthetist tells his patient to count to ten as he injects the anaesthetic** while the nurses and ODAs stand around grinning. The patient never gets further than three.

**The milk makes them doll-like. Propofol is the anaesthetic of choice and the beautiful thing is that it looks exactly like milk, not surprising as it comes as 1% propofol in a soya emulsion.

***Morrissey thinks Christiane F is an excellent film. I think Kurt Cobain did too.

Despite their reputation as experimentalists, Sonic Youth have always preferred to work with traditional song structures - sweet, repetitive melodies held in conformist alignment by Steve Shelley's slick and unscary percussion. (They should never have got rid of Bob Bert!) Indeed their moments of violence and dischord serve only to accentuate the predictability of the songs, which stand out from the background noise, edge-enhanced and sentimentalised. And the rebarbative elements are in any case no more than cool-sounding effects, kids making a mess, chosen not for their truth value**** but on the basis of whether or not they sound good. Which is why they get dropped into the most inappropriate contexts (Diamond Sea) or turn silly (Becuz). Milton Babbitt draws a distinction between "music", the work of a serious composer or interpretive artist, and mere "aural pleasure", in which musical choices are made in terms of the immediate gratifications they afford the listener. Well I love Milton Babbitt and have long mooted writing him a fan letter, and this distinction is as outrageous as it is liberating. It more or less disposes of Sonic Youth's entire output and that of most other rock bands, although I maintain that Kurt Cobain in songs like Radio Friendly Unit Shifter was trying to capture something far more exact with his effects and distortions. And Washing Machine is a grand track.

****So can a musical choice have a truth value? And what is a truth value anyway?

Well it was a pity. The signature waves of ecstatic dischord - creatively exhausted by Diamond Sea and reduced to an idle jog by Sunday - lost all capacity to inspire me until they seemed merely like tame replications of a drug high. The only way to overcome a temptation is to yield to it, but Sonic Youth have always preferred to stand back from the edge of temptation without ever abandoning the thought of it or refusing its terms entirely (though to be fair I've heard nothing since A Thousand Leaves, not even Goodbye 20th Century). Their studied remoteness from situations they're not really remote from (on the cheaply judgemental Skip Tracer for example) seems snotty and dishonest.

This post was inspired by the example of Carl at The Impostume and his analysis of what exactly he disliked so much about Saint Etienne. Actually I always wondered whether Saint Etienne's records weren't a satire directed at the type of people who enjoy Saint Etienne, nostalgic for a time they never lived through or a life they never had*****. Compare Teenage Riot, the worst song on Daydream Nation - street action as retro fashion show. And could there be a worse political song than Youth against Fascism? I can't believe it was recorded in earnest by these smart, well-connected New Yorkers, and though I understand the anger that made Crass record White Punks on Hope, I wouldn't have thought anti-fascism was a very worthwhile subject for parody.

*****I preferred the Generation Game with Larry Grayson.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I love Ruggero Deodato, he's so evil

A Yanömamö girl picks lice from the hair of a man with club-fight scars

Last night I attended a focus group for Extreme Films Research and discussed House on the Edge of the Park in a group of four. The BBFC certificated copy has been cut by 11m 43s for scenes of "gross sexual violence and humiliating nudity". However the clear judgement of the focus group was that we all liked the film for its "class politics". We had each experienced something like a journey from addiction to recovery, a private shame transformed by discovering that one's debilitating preoccupations mirrored the codes and structures of capitalism. A conservative critic might frame the whole grounds for discussion in terms of the "problem of human evil", a classic non-problem from a Marxist perspective. At any rate Trotsky's view was that atrocities are more likely to take place when soldiers are fighting for a cause they know to be unjust. It may be we get up from bed and walk to work each day in the service of an unjust cause and by punctuating our lives with staged atrocities we recover something of the will to live. Films like House on the Edge of the Park were compared to a drug, or to the way the Yanömamö Indians like to brain each other with enormous clubs until they form hard welts on the surface of their heads; young men stagger around after each blow, returning for more until they finally collapse to the ground. The wonderful thing is after a few days when the mind starts to clear - one knows one has recovered enough to get back on the trip again.

Four more thoughts from Pol Pot

If you have a disease of the old society, take a dose of Lenin as medication.

"Lenin" in Cambodian rhymes with quinine.

The sick are as sly as rabbits, and can swallow a whole pot of rice.

If you do not complete your task during the day, you will complete it by night.

Work is a fight: you blaze like fire and reduce tree stumps to ashes.

The two vowels of "Pol Pot" are different in Cambodian; "Pull Port" would be a vague approximation. The grotesque, fairy-tale quality of the name in English is also absent in the Cambodian, in which "Pol Pot" is - or at least was - a quite anonymous-sounding name; "Jim Jones" might be a fair translation.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Who said the revolution wasn't going to be pretty?

The pornography of a long black skirt and what aren't actually little white ankle socks. Kim Jong Suk as a partisan.

from "Pol Pot's Little Red Book"

"There are no Sundays; there are only Mondays."

further quotations from Pol Pot will litter this blog.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Senator's birthday

Screenshot from "Emanuelle in America" (D'Amato 1976)
Only one m - from the cheap Italian imitations of the prestigious Emmanuelle originals.

Breath of bale

Thoughts about porn inspired by the Porn Symposium and the examples of Different Maps, The Measures Taken, InfiniteThought, Beyond the Implode, and K-Punk

Property porn: it's hardly the property which is being degraded by the glossy photo spreads, or the cars by those revealing open bonnet shots. Pornography is an opportunity for the viewer half-consciously to degrade himself, to feel both the rush and its short-lived inadequacy. Such material naturally incites violence. Gastronomy porn provokes daydreams of plunging one's fingers in cake and cream, smothering one's face in it. It's the rage parodied in a zombie film - images of the undead messing their hands in the entrails. It's the desire behind disaster movies, symbols of Capital lasered to rubble. Some films play out these fantasies of destruction, only rarely in fact to progressive effect, while others are content with the gloss image and unobtrusively stoke the aggression and anger which make us productive. Immersing oneself in the latter, one often feels disgusting. After watching a cannibal movie one can feel strangely cleansed.

Political pornography: Sometimes by watching exploitation films the apparent chaos of political relations starts to seem a bit clearer. Some political sources seek to clarify, others provide a more dirtying thrill. The pornography of dust-covered babies exhibited like holy relics on the one hand and revisionist photo analysis on the other. Could the child have been reburied? Is the dummy merely there for effect? Nazi girl band Prussian Blue is named for the cyanide deposits not found on the walls of the 'gas chambers' in Auschwitz. The very name is a smiling denial, clean and insolent.

Violent pornography: Joe D'Amato, whose horror films are notable for their childlike honesty and fearlessness, also made a vast number of porn films. He was the first to use fibre optic technology to develop the "snatch cam" and shoot the scene from inside his actresses. In "Trap Them and Kill Them" (aka Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals 1977) women's stomachs are slit open with knives and their guts pulled out and eaten (by Vietnamese asylum seekers in need of work). D'Amato isn't afraid to light the scene so that the rubber nature of the torsos is discernible. His method is always to switch on the lights, and if what gets revealed is banal and disillusioning, so much the better. Are the snatch cam and its sister the "butt cam" actually effective in turning on the punter? D'Amato follows the lust to reveal, to possess, or to disassemble to its final absurd (cf. Absurd (D'Amato, 1981)) , unerotic conclusion. Pornography, and violent pornography in particular, often foreground the desolation which succeeds the orgasm, the shadow of impotence which threatens even the moment of triumph. In real life, rapists often lose their erections when they try to penetrate. This may, of course, lead to a substitute form of aggression. The Japanese director of "pinku eiga" Koji Wakamatsu highlights this in such films as "Violated Woman in White" (Okasareta Byakui 1967) in which a young male intruder in a nurses' home, unable to relate or respond to the girls he finds there, and traumatised by the sight of two of the girls having sex, tortures and kills them. He is incapable of physically raping them - this is the case with many of Wakamatsu's male protagonists - and engages in acts of violence in order to break through the girls' apparently sealed self-containment, in the hope - I suppose - that it might efface his impotence. The film tracks the futility of his attempts. At the conclusion of the film, he curls up in the lap of the surviving girl, surrounded by corpses, crawling up the umbilical noose into pre-natal oblivion. Wakamatsu relates this to politics, the violence of the student Left being a product of political impotence - precisely impotence, and not merely powerlessness, an impotence provoked by the sight of stacked shelves in a supermarket or cheesecake photographs in a magazine. Impotence produces impotent rage, which stops far short of liberating parody. Joe D'Amato's films often engage with political subjects - with race and with social and political corruption in "Emanuelle in America" (1976) for example - but always in the form of parody. His touch is far lighter than Wakamatsu's, but the effect can paradoxically be heavier and more desolating. D'Amato's vulgar, inscrutable eye never imposes a vision, but simply presents things in the cheapest, most direct way possible, so the world's sordidness lies helplessly on display. He reminds me of the monkey smoking a cigarette in "Trap Them and Kill Them" as it contemplates a lesbian encounter in the jungle - it's a beautiful scene, and perhaps best understood as a self-portrait of the director.

Emotional pornography: That which tries to do the dirty on emotion, or keeps the emotion in a hutch like a guinea-pig or thinks it can lead it somewhere deserted and get it to stand on a chair with a noose round its neck and kick the chair away. I figure that when Tom Baker left, Doctor Who lost the ethical heart that made it valuable, a sensibility that only Baker himself was able to safeguard, and from that time on the programme evolved into cheaply manipulative showbiz. "Black Orchid" was the story that shocked me, that final scene where the display of the book neatly softens and cleanses all emotion, the Doctor smiles, and the 'sting' before the closing credits stabs home the episode's total cynicism.

Child pornography: A pornographic view of childhood revisits "lost innocence" and tries to infuse it with dirt. If you believe The News of the World, child sex-murderer Robert Black used to like wearing a child's swimming costume, as an act of paedophilial transvestism. It's curious how all the girl bands have their songs written, filmed and choreographed for them, for the most part by men. But how strange, always to write in the persona of a young girl, for an audience of young girls... I imagine them preparing to write, assuming an imaginary mask, inhabiting the part, living in that sound world. How scared and ridiculous they might feel if all the lights were suddenly switched on and there they were lying on the bed, jammed into the clothes of a nine year old. A pop sexuality is a paedophile sexuality, maybe - the same pattern of addiction, constantly tugging the sufferer back to that perfect light, that perfect hit, the one sunlit time. And then naturally enough one resents such perfection, one would like to make it filthy. Hence something dimly remembered from childhood gets "a new adult look". I remember seeing a girl sitting on a low wall, she must have been about nine, she looked like one of the All Saints. Except she made the All Saints look ragged and old, and I suddenly realised "Oh, you're the original!"

My porn name: it brings to mind the miseries of life at the call centre.

"How many hits have you had in the past hour?"
"five... "
(glumly) "three..."
"Well done. Keep it up".

Friday, January 27, 2006

The love of dolls

There was a puppet maker in 19th century Japan who lived with one of his dolls. They were effectively man and wife, and slept, ate and spent most of their leisure hours together. He was quite devoted to her, and on the puppet maker's death, they were buried in the same coffin. I'm not sure whether this is a rather noble story, or a pathetically sad one. But the latter seems the narrower judgement. I almost envy him. One could compare him to the sort of man whose wife dies young and who himself lives into old age, refusing to remarry or to break the hold that his memories have over him. Now I spoke about this to a friend of mine once, and she thought such an attitude was more akin to self-mummification than genuine love. And I don't myself believe that there is any afterlife in which such devotion could be honoured. A dead woman cannot return love any more than a doll. Or is there any possible world in which a machine, a puppet or a picture can reciprocate love? Every boy who falls in love with a girl on a poster wonders if there might not be some nobility, some glory to be had if they light a little candle in a special shrine devoted to her. Anyone who has seen Welcome to the Dollhouse remembers the shrine that Dawn makes with candles for the singer in her brother's band. Is there any philosophical plane on which prayers to this guy - in reality, loutish, smug and indifferent to her - might be answered? Or I wonder if someone will write a book called "What Your Computer Thinks About You", in the same style as those books which discuss the feelings which our dogs and cats are supposed to have for us.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Paul van Ostaijen

Belgian poet Paul van Ostaijen (1896 - 1928) described poetry as "a game of words, anchored in the metaphysical". I feel quite determinedly that the opposite is true, and would prefer to call it an investigation with language, anchored in the material. Van Ostaijen's poetry is sorrowful and delicate, and his description of the nature of poetry has so much more charm than mine. I think of a ship's anchor lodged in a cloud.

More charm, and also more desperate need. Van Ostaijen's experience of the Great War in occupied Belgium, from out of which he wrote Feasts of Fear and Pain and Occupied City, helped give rise to his yearning for the purely lyrical, a yearning which could never really be satisfied in the everyday world, except glancingly in poetry.

My hands feel for my hands / incessantly

This is one of my favourite poems of his, from The First Book of Schmoll -


Deep seas around the island
deep blue seas surround the island
You do not know
whether the island is of the stars overhead
you do not know
whether the island is on the axis of the earth
deep seas
deep blue seas
the plummet seeks
sinking it seeks and seeking sinks
seeking its own seeking
and goes on
and goes on
deep seas
blue seas
deep blue seas
deepblue seas
the upside-down stars
doubly blue
and doubly fathomless
When will the blue plummet
in the blue seas
find the green seaweed
and the coral reef

An animal that hunts life towards an imagined peace
- a delusion in a million millenial cells -
like an animal that hunts and finds on its blind fingers
nothing but repetition of enacted action
like an animal
the sailor's plummet
If this sinking were to settle past your eyes you could not know
a greater emptiness

translated from the Dutch by James S Holmes

Friday, January 13, 2006

That's so, too

Eastern War Time by Adrienne Rich


What the grown-ups can't speak of would you push
onto children? and the deadweight of Leo Frank
thirty years lynched hangs heavy
: "this is what our parents were trying to spare us"
here in America but in terrible Europe
anything was possible surely?
: "But this is the twentieth century" :
what the grown-ups can't teach children must learn
how do you teach a child what you won't believe?
how do you say unfold, my flower, shine, my star
and we are hated, being what we are?

screenshot from The House is Black by Forough Farrokhzad

Monday, January 09, 2006


It was an icy day
we buried the cat
then took her box
and set match to it

in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

William Carlos Williams

There is a rat rotting under my floorboards. We levered them up and discovered droppings and scratch marks. The rat man has put down some warfarin.

I remember seeing a dead cat. I was walking along the pavement into town one winter morning and saw a trail of blood leading from the kerb to a patch of grass. The cat had been knocked down - presumably by a car - and had staggered across the pavement to die. One of its eyes was hanging out, and I was astonished by how large it was. When I saw a human eye being removed, or "enucleated" at work, we kept it in a plastic pot and it was quite small. But when one looks at a cat skull, it is interesting to see how far back the socket goes. A cat needs to react far more quickly than a human, and its eyesight is doubtless a lot sharper.

photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)