Thursday, November 02, 2006

Small man in a white suit

I'm reading Tom Wolfe's 'A Man In Full' at the moment, having read 'Bonfire of the Vanities' about a year ago. Neither book is particularly great, and it's mainly my inability to give up on a book once I've started it that keeps me reading. I am interested to know though why Wolfe is so fixated on muscle groups. Is it as simple as the fact that he's an absolutely tiny man who presumably doesn't have much in the way of abs? He lists various muscle types with the same breathlessness that Fred Dibnah named steam pioneers.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The new, New World

Blogging does something awful to the way I write, something I'm not sure is entirely excusable, redolent of the days when I'd sit up all night writing agonisingly sincere essays on subjects that didn't really interest me a great deal, for the consumption of people who'd read it all before during decades of study, or worse, had heard it all before a couple of hours earlier that morning from someone else with the same reading list.

Now I sit down to blog, and the urge descends to write the most pedantically worthy drivel imaginable. I do not recognise myself in the sanctimonious crap you read below, in the equivocating confessional tide of named-checked works, of cocked-hats and knowing winks. These are not my concerns, these are not the subjects that move me to want to sit and write, and so this is the reason that blogging has felt so incomplete for so long - too many hours spent writing for an audience that is not even there; too much effort spent joining a dialogue that is nothing of the sort, not even a lashed-together raft of monologues.

I made a very silly error, assuming that the motivation and inspiration would come from a network, from plugging into a ready-made discourse. Of course it doesn't, like all writing there has to be a heavy dose of selfishness, of solipsism. What remains is to escape this cloying tedious preoccupation with getting beyond the page, and start cataloging what I actually care about...

I'll confess at the absolute outset that I haven't read any Lovecraft that I can remember. I might have seen him anthologised once before, and have a fleeting recollection of a story about a group of people descending into a cavern, which was sandwiched between Le Fanu and Polidori's Vampire stories in a cheap paperback I picked up in an outlet mall bookstore, but that could just as easily have been a Dennis Wheatley story.

I'm not even sure I have a very good idea of what Lovecraft is all about; he exists for me in a state of finite possibility, where all of the many things he could represent seem equally appealing. Much like my half-recollection of David Lynch's films - through accident rather than by design, I have never seen a David Lynch film more than once (though I've watched Twin Peaks several times). And so the eight year old imagery of 'Lost Highway' (I watched it during my first weekend in Oxford, unhappy and already apprehensive about how things were going to turn out), the already disjointed, unburied plot of 'Mulholland Drive' poking it's fingers through thick turf. I remember so little of these films, not even a complete sequence - just the dark-eyed midget from LH and the side-stepping tramp, the hysterical laughing pensioners in the car in MD (do I even remember these? I'd love to find that my recollections are inaccurate). Lynch's films now mean whatever I feel they should mean at any particular time, they exist purely as potential and dimly remembered specifics, not tethered to the dull surface of a commonly held, oft-interrogated interpretation.

Still, the comparison with Lynch only extends so far - the films do sit in my memory somewhere, if only to rapidly deteriorate and reappear downstream tangled with books I no longer remember reading, stories I no longer remember hearing (for evidence of the randomness of this, two books that come maddeningly back to me constantly but with almost no detail and form are 'Beaver Towers' - I kid you not - a book I read when I was about 5 years old, and 'Prince on a White Horse' a book I know nothing about now, other than exactly how it felt to be reading it when I was 9 or 10). Lovecraft on the other hand is literally a mystery to me - I could not quote one word, the titles of more than his most famous works, I couldn't recite a single plot or expound on his themes or concerns. Instead all I have is a comprehensive but indefinable sense of what Lovecraft is, haunting my understanding rather than confronting it.
According to a study by Duke University, the only people lonelier than men in their 20s, are pensioners who have outlived their contemporaries.

Article from the Sunday Times

Friday, October 20, 2006

New York isn't my town...

... and it never will be.

It's worth watching again...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Graves in air

The Athanasius Kircher Society Blog is a pretty reliable source of though-provoking and unpretentious content. They currently link to this collection of Victorian post-mortem photography, which has been quietly unsettling me all day.

The Victorian attitude to death has been written about fairly extensively, and I'm sure both Dan Cruickshank and Adam Hart-Davis have produced BBC2 documentary series on it. This is not to say that the subject is no longer ripe. While it is formality that the Victorians are most famous for having introduced to the routines of death and grief (a facet they are assumed to have brought to virtually every social arena) this is a massive oversimplification of the revolution that the treatment of death underwent. Two movements, inspired by opposite poles of the spectrum of rationalism emerged, and are hugely more influential today than the vestiges of top-hatted sincerity that still occasionally cling to a modern death.

Championed by the likes of William Price, the theological upheaval required to bring cremation to popular acceptance has been forgotten today as the necessity of disposing of bodies in a more efficient way is obvious to most. The cracked and mossy mausoleums of our high-Victorian cemeteries are the cherished inheritance of a culture that has moved on from the unquestioned need to bury its dead.

Contrasting with cremation's progressivism (though it occasionally looked backwards for historical precedent), the emergence of Spiritualism drew strength from an entirely different set of conditions. Largely feminine; caught between the millennia old conviction that the soul endures, and scientific predictions about the endurance of matter and energy through transformative states; Spiritualism remains a far more approachable view of the afterlife than that presented by western Christianity. The number of television shows fronted by softly spoken mediums with regional accents attests to the undiminished desire of people to believe that the spirit survives in an uncomplicated state, waiting only for us to discover the means to rekindle unfinished conversations.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Remembrance of jobs past

I do not have fond memories of Waterstone's. I don't shop there on principle now, having worked there after I graduated in 2001 and wanted somewhere to tread water while I made my first clumsy attempts at writing a novel. I have some sympathy therefore with Brian Appleyard who seems admirably pious in his dislike of the cretinisation wrought by the large chains in their seemingly endless desire to narrow the taste of the reading public. There's an interesting possible divergence of extreme here; on the one hand technology might lead to a day where we only possess one 'book' which can contain the text of any novel, periodical or newspaper you desire. On the other, we have the prospect that one day we might only be interested in a single book - endless stacks of the same garish, self-congratulatory ghost-written biography of a celebrity as yet unborn.

On a side note, as someone who takes quite openly excessive care of books, even if they are stickered remainders from the local branch of 'The Works', I welcome the day when we are all toting e-book readers, which hopefully will be expensive enough that I wont be the only person taking care of mine...

Waking up is so very hard to do

I'm always being pursued in dreams. The chasing party tends to vary according to rules mysterious to me, emerging from a broad spectrum of sources historical, cinematic and fantastical, and not always necessarily grotesque. They are such a common form of memorable dream, that I have several recollections of remarking to myself in the grip of one, how similar it is to a previous dream episode. I have a pretty good batting average in these situations, usually emerging victorious, but it's the post-sleep routine that has come to have real interest for me.

Now if I wake with a dream still not yet dispersed, Wikipedia tends to be my first stop; looking up werewolf lore, or reminding myself of the origins of Jason Vorhees (I escaped from him by holding my breath at the bottom of a dimly-lit swimming pool).


Jason Vorhees

However, sometimes even Wikipedia isn't enough, and it's necessary to plunge off the map into less celebrated regions of the web. One of my favorite sites for browsing in the post-nightmare morning is D. L. Ashliman's folklore collection. It covers an enormous range of reports from the front lines of suspicion, not all of which are old enough to have gathered the moss of familiarity. I heartily recommend The Morbach Monster as a story of latter-day bizarreness.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I wanna be a punka too

There are so many surreal elements to the BBC's reinvention of the 'Culture Show', from the selection of Lauren Laverne (who I still think of as the lead singer of Kenickie all these years later) to the phenomenally predictable intrusion of another 'Greatest Living X' type poll into the series (the appearance in any setting of some kind of hat-tipping exercise in democratising culture/history/politics/science has become so frequent that it's now almost unsettling to see a new edificatory program without one). We can call these the formal surrealities of what is a fairly dull show, but it did have an additional surprise or two during the various videoed sections.

The thing that caught my attention most was during a section on the rediscovery of 'crafts' by a new generation of pretentious young blades. Someone was talking about crochet, or whittling or something equally quaint, and with total conviction asserted that the loose-threaded scarves and roughly thrown and haphazardly glazed mugs had a 'punk rock aesthetic'. Punk means a great deal to a lot of people (though not a lot to me), and has been hijacked and yoked to so many causes now that I wont be causing any sharp intakes of breath in suggesting that the description has become a little devalued. What is more surprising is the staying power of the term; the fact that after all these years, after the cyclical appearance of so many bondage tops in so many charity store/vintage store bins, people still believe in its transfigurative power - in the ability of the words 'punk rock' to turn a scruffy pair of home-made gloves into an act of rebellion.

The New World

First, the old blog is not dead, just resting for a while. With three authors at times, and no real identity to begin with, it now feels like a little bit of an impediment to my writing - since I'm not sure what it's there for, I'm not sure what to write to fill the accusing blank field in the Blogger interface. So this one is all my own work, and its trivialities and failings will hopefully be recognisable as mine.