Sunday, 7 March 2010

Oh well Orwell.

Ode to Orwell.

Hello George, do you mind if I call you George,
what do you think of the Big Brother series?

'A family with the wrong members in control; that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase'.

I am inclined to agree with you George,
here, watching the London Eye spin bodies.
Any thoughts on the underclass George,
and the socio-economic crises?

'A tragic situation exists precisely not when virtue does not triumph; but when it is felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him'.

Globalisation- good or bad Orwell?
Is the war in Afghanistan our duty?

'Political language- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind'.

Very eloquently expressed Orwell,
now may I ask of the arts and beauty?
of texting and Myspace and Facebook, Orwell?
are these tools of expression or just empty?

'Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it'.

Too true; here we are at the Tate modern
any advice for a writing intern?

'For a creative writer possession of the "truth" is less important than emotional sincerity'.

Friday, 26 February 2010


OK, so this weeks directed reading referred to the Kundera chapter on Broch's trilogy of novels The Sleepwalkers. I've read this passage three times now and am still struggling to draw a coherent thread together. Firstly I'm going to summarise what I think I understand. I needed a dictionary on page 1 - ontological: a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being. Right, so the discourse is about perspective and composition. Salvador Dali's painting Swans Reflecting Elephants seems appropriate to this theme.

The three novels discussed have the titles; Romanticism, Anarchy and Realism. Kundera goes on to theorise that the ideology behind these texts that binds them together is that 'The world is a process of the disintegration of values, a process that stretches over the four centuries of the Modern Era and is their very essence'. This is simmered down to 5 basic possible attitudes towards the world;

1. Romanticism. the sentiments resist changing times. they are the indestructible underpinning of conservatism.
2. Anarchy. the world divides into the kingdom of Good and the kingdom of Evil, but alas, both are equally impossible to identify.
3. Realism. the absence of moral imperatives is his freedom, his deliverance.
4. absolute of the serious.
5. absolute of the non serious.

I believe that this is a valid perspective, but somewhat limited and rather negative, and I would specifically argue against the definitions of anarchy and realism and replace these with 'bewilderment' and 'narcissism' respectively. 

Kundera appears to be writing form a Marxist/new historicist point of view, paying particular attention to the role of literature through socio-economic consequences post-communism. This approach identifies some very interesting components of fiction, however the discernment of value is weighed in reference to power structures and specific responses to the external complexities of the world. I think the thing I have a problem with is the implied victim mentality, I just don't buy the philosophy that all life is suffering and the ultimate objective is to articulate in the face of doom. 

Even if I did agree, this is still only looking from one angle and seeing that this weeks theme is 'Possibilities' I would like to widen the scope from five options. So here is an interview with my favourite quantum activist, talking about the nature of possibilities.

To truly engage with the concept of possibilities I believe there is a necessity for humility; to admit what we know and don't know. I prefer to be part of the mystery, this 'Mumford & Sons' song Awake My Soul  sums it up perfectly for me;

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Finally my copy of Six Memos for the Next Millennium has arrived. Today I read the chapter on exactitude. This text has nudged an elusive thought process into being. I am pleased that Calvino opened this chapter with reference to 'Maat' as I have a little knowledge about her. The ancient Egyptian goddess of justice, law, order and truth. She weighs the heart of the dead against a feather, to decide whether you would feast with the deities or be given to 'Ahemait' the underworld goddess (part hippo, part lion, part crocodile) to be devoured...nasty.

Anyway, the image fits very well with the concept of exactitude. I wholeheartedly agree with Calvino on his sentiment that image/words/meaning are confused in mainstream contemporary western culture, many things we are subjected to are devoid of nourishment for the mind or soul (this is why I do not own a television). It is the realm of literature that I find most stimulating for the imagination.

The quandary in the text seems to be about balancing precision of words with openness for interpretation. A few concepts came to mind; isn't the idea of control over language delving into structural linguistics? Saussure argued the relationship of signifier and signified is not necessarily connected. Later in the chapter Calvino paradoxically exposes the idea that mystery is more appealing and vagueness, can be more easily identified in the finite human consciousness than the precise infinite, does this not jar with exactitude?

As an aspiring poet I find this concept parallels with the Imagist Manifesto idea that a writer should 'Go in fear of abstractions' searching for the precise image to express oneself, rather that patronising the reader with hyperbole. It all comes back to subjectivity, freedom to interpret, and a ludic relationship with language.

Calvino's assessment of characters in novels as vehicles of ideological expression works very well, but I have not read the novels he is referencing so I am not confident in critically analysing this work.

As a person who collects specimens of natural crystal I completely understand Calvino's 'self organising system' philosophy, applying this to writing it is more natural for me to look at tensions and facets, inclusions and growth habits of a text, rather than the 'flame view - order out of noise'. I am going to try looking at and writing the consuming, transforming, chaotic aspects of literature, to develop a balance.

The final few pages of the chapter discuss the idea of writing as a process of inquiry, this film clip serves as a visual example of this idea. The winner of Ukraine's got talent - a stunning sand animation.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

if you dont go within you go without

Lets start with a track 'Yulunga' (Spirit Dance) by a band called Dead Can Dance, from their album: Toward the Within.

I find this song beautiful and haunting, even though I do not understand the lyrics. I think that it is the 'otherness' and mystery of the piece that I am enchanted by.

Reading this week - a passage from The Art of the Novel by Kundera came to my attention; 
'The world of one single Truth and the relative, ambiguous world of the novel are moulded on entirely different substances. Totalitarian Truth excludes relativity, doubt, questioning; it can never accommodate what I would call the spirit of the novel'.

This reminded me of a chapter from Margaret Atwood's book Negotiating with the Dead, in the chapter Atwood comments on a passage from George Orwell's novel 1984 (the ultimate text on totalitarianism), where protagonist Winston Smith buys a 'forbidden' blank notebook from a junk shop 'He has been seized by the desire to posses this book, despite the dangers that owning it would entail. who among writers has not been overcome by a similar desire?'.

In his famous essay 'Why I Write' Orwell himself states 'under a kind of compulsion from outside' as one of the reasons why he wrote at all. Contemplating this strand of thought, how art is produced as a compulsive, reflexive, subjective exercise, I remembered a poem that I believe sums up that creative transcendental quality of the human spirit;

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me down with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a suprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou.

Here is a textual intervention on this poem by Ben Harper,

post-video tutorial...

Ok, so this has taken me two weeks to achieve;

adding clips to my blog... I thought I'd add my top 3 connections. ta da!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Kundera to Gypsy Rose Lee

"What does Cervantes's great novel mean? [ ] Some see it as a rationalist critique on Don Quixote's hazy idealism. Others see it as a celebration of that same idealism. Both interpretations are mistaken because they both seek at the novel's core not an inquiry but a moral position".

This quote from The Art of the Novel got me thinking about the role of literature in moral education.  Today we were looking at the concept of 'carnivalesque', this brought to mind the painting by Joan Miro (my favourite artist) titled Carnival. The term is derived from the Latin carnem levare, 'to put away flesh'. In the past a carnival was symbolic of the disruption and subversion of authority, in literature the term reflects an introduction of alternatives, a kind of liberating influence, a marked characteristic of burlesque, parody and personal satire.

BURLESQUE: we were also talking about this today, and on investigation things started to get a bit weird. I was not aware that burlesque in fact originated as a literary genre in folk poetry and theatre, connected to 16th C playwright/poet Miguel de Cervantes, who ridiculed medieval romance in many of his satirical works, it turns out that this is a genre that he was particularly fond of and excelled in. Don Quixote, his seminal work, considered the first modern novel; contains a collection of burlesque sonnets. 

There is a book that can be accessed for free on-line through Google books called 'Cervantes and the Burlesque Sonnet' by A.L.Markin, the introduction makes an interesting point "Paradoxically, through exaggeration, burlesque is a call to truth and anti dogmatism", where would we be without the freedom to mock authority and ourselves? - Back to the history of burlesque. In 18th century Europe the term was used to describe musical works in which serious and comic elements were juxtaposed or combined to achieve a grotesque effect. It was only in 20th century America that burlesque gained its connections with striptease.

Monday, 8 February 2010

first ever blog thingy

I love this painting by Susan Seddon Boulet, mainly because it sums up how I see the beginnings of my creative processes as a writer. Listening and taking time to interperet the abundance of messages to be gleaned from the world is the passive aspect, yet it is equally important to me to 'cast a net' and seek inspiration from interacting with life in as many directions as possible. I believe this marriage of passive and active states of consciousness are responsible for the dynamic energy that sustains my creativity with a critical awareness, guiding my writing on to a better level. but I am still learning, long may this continue.

...recently I visited the Royal Academy of Arts (London) and saw an exhibition there called 'Earth', this collection concentrated on environmental ideology, unavoidable in today's climate, but without instructing the viewer how to think. it was a good experience, seeing artistic responses to the environmental issue, each work had a unique take and 'voice' making it a human narrative rather than political agenda. well worth a look...

I found Gormley's Amazonian Field had the biggest impact on me, hundreds of 8" figures staring through a doorway, directly at me. they just looked so vital, you can see where the clay has been worked, and each face is different, but with the same blank eyes. the concept seems to be 'art made of earth staring at the viewer as if responsible for making it', macro narrative-we are responsible. An interesting idea to contemplate in terms of creativity and cultural response in a changing world, 1960's America saw the emergence of literary journalism as a new genre in response to drastic social upheaval and the newly widespread consumption of television. how is literature affected today by the internet, and factors such as climate change and globalisation? is there a new direction looming?