December 11, 2013

ok ok, and not just this week either,  it’s two getting on for three, delayed by sundry drinking and a visit to Madrid, where although I had a cool view from my hotel room, with deep sierra in the far distance, i did not see much other than the inside of television corporations, no different by and large to the inside of tv corporations anywhere.

2013-12-03 10.59.36

I didn’t see any of Goya’s frescos or his paintings of scenes and people through whom nightmares have crept into the world. I did, on freezing evening, have pointed out to me a large, modern building – a set of flats, 30 floors or so high, pyramidal, almost gothic, expressive of wealth – with not a light a shining from one of its countless windows, and with the entirety of its ground floor boarded up against the poor, whose ranks grow daily, and who muster in the tube stations for warmth against the freezing cold that visits from the same picturesque sierra that I could see framing the city from my hotel balcony. Government oppression, restriction on protest, and a limited period of welfare support. Vast semi-gothic empty buildings and the nightmare of poverty creeping from the underground. Goya would have something to paint in Madrid today.

I took with me All Souls by Javier Marias and didn’t realise or remember that he is from Madrid, as is the main character. It’s set in Oxford though, deals in the main with an affair between the narrator and a female academic, and speculations about the emotional and sexual orientations of the characters – a reductive system of emotional interactions taking place behind a veil of Oxford inscrutability that the narrator, as an outsider, has some uncertainty perceiving, even though he is in the middle of its web. It is not at all diverting, though fairly easy to read. That may have been tho because it was the only book I had with me and the typeface was fairly large. There are some thoughts interleaved about people who inhabit time or places like vagrants – lost and marginal souls – and how they can intangibly touch upon our lives by brushing up against the past of our pre-existence. I am being kind, it wasn’t really much about that or enough about it to make any difference to reading the book. It seemed a Laodicean novel, neither hot nor cold, but with no pose either that I could make out. It made me feel dull, as if I were missing something that I didn’t really feel like looking for. Go on, someone make a case for it.


^ listening to this was what I felt like for stretches before I went to Madrid off the back of an internet recommendation. There is a melancholy so intense sometimes that it produces a dull pain in your torso, it is almost separable from feeling and so may be examined, and the taste of death in it is like the taste of death in wine in particular, or drugs of any sort in general. It is not exactly unpleasant, it has savour, and Chanson de la folle au bord de la mer is a helluva piece if you’re paddling in those black waters without armbands.

Oh, and a barcarolle. I’m a sucker for a barcarolle:


The moonlight coming through the leaves and flowers of the apple tree scattered the most whimsical bright spots over Katerina Lvovna’s face and whole recumbent body; the air was still; only a light, warm breeze faintly stirred the sleepy leaves and spread the subtle fragrance of the blossoming herbs and trees. There was a breath of something languorous, conducive to laziness, sweetness and obscure desires.


A golden night! Silence, light, fragrance, and beneficent, vivifying warmth. Far across the ravine, beyond the garden, someone struck up a resounding song; by the fence, in the bird-cherry thicket, a nightingale trilled and loudly throbbed; in a cage on a tall pole a sleep quail began to rave, and a fat horse sighed languidly behind the stable wall, and outside the garden fence a merry pack of dogs raced noiselessly across the green and disappeared into the dense black shadow of the half-ruined old salt depots.

Made a start on The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories, a volume of Nikolai Leskov short stories that I drunk bought on visual appeal alone and promptly forgot about before it arrived in an exciting and entirely unnecessary large box.

2013-05-10 21.26.53

I like the placement of the sounds here, which gives a feeling of stillness because they are isolated in the night, and there is something about those song and those silent merry dogs – they are the things we notice when we contemplate the night, sounds that produce a feeling of distanced contemplation of ourselves in the world in the day, of our own placement, and isolated location. (In the story it is also the place where an emotional contract of jealousy that results in death, and later hatred and self-annihilation is made, though it is not clear that is what it will entail, and the seductive night seems almost to have brought about the dangerous promises that are made in it.) Kind of a bit indifferent to the Russian fable thing going on generally, but that’s just probably because I wasn’t in the right mood.


Otherwise? Well, kicking off on the goats to this deranged funk blast:

And this will also be in my Songs of the Year:

woke up at three am ETERNAL one morning, and couldnae sleep, so put on the World Service to drift to. At one point there was an interview with Omar Souleyman, which in my dream state was a bit confusing as I’d been listening to this track a LOT the previous day:

it gets p intense at the 5:12 mark. that’s the point when i usually start jigging my head somewhat.

(Then there was an interview with the doctor who did the third ever, and at that point most successful, heart transplant for a baby:

Stephanie Fae Beauclair (October 14, 1984 – November 15, 1984), better known as Baby Fae, was an American infant born in 1984 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She became the first infant subject of a xenotransplant procedure, receiving the heart of a baboon. The procedure, performed by Leonard L. Bailey at Loma Linda University Medical Center, was successful, but Fae died 21 days later of heart failure due to rejection of the transplant.

The doctor said they still don’t know why she died.)


What else? Well, One Week One Band did The Fall, which was good, tho – FOR SHAME – they were dismissive about I am Kurious Oranj, one of the great ART PIECES of the LATTER HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY.

There was a great post on Berberian Sound Studio here, (my less substantial tho still frighteningly authoritative thoughts here) – oh and I went to the cinema to see a film very close in spirit to BSS – Dead of Night, one of my FAVOURITE films, and confirmed to myself that I still know many of the lines by heart, such as:

‘Funny sort of joke, it… it isn’t funny!’

‘I am not accustomed to solving complex problems with the casual ease of your Brains Trust, Mr Craig’

and of course

‘Private show for the LOOONIES’.

And over the past two days I have only been listening to this:

Also RIP Colin Wilson.

2013-08-17 14.30.01

and if these not-even-weekly scrapings become any more laborious i’m departing to live a life of eremitic hebetude in the outer hebrides straight after xmas, xmas.

see ya, frenz roman.

Tail Ponds #1

November 20, 2013

My weekly sick bag of indigestible cultural items:

Listened to about four or five times every day over the past week christ. Part nostalgia, part it seeming to suit this time of year. The low comforting bass, the fractured vox of alien elation.


Facts without authenticity, without detail, without control, without value

from The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking

[phrase is from a report on the winner of the 1835 Montyon Prize. Jean Civiale statistically compared two methods of operation for gallstone removal, to find which had the best survival rate. Four adjudicating mathematicians, including Simon-Denis Poisson (even I’ve heard of Poisson distribution), used the report to talk about the relatively novel application of probability to medicine. Their target, according to Hacking, probably the polemical battle between two opposed doctors FJV Broussais – a blood-letting military doctor and speculative pathologist, who believed all illness could be located in specific organs (and indeed suicide was due to the absence of a ‘stay-alive’ mechanism in one of the major organs) –  and A Miquel, who pointed to rising death rates wherever Broussais was in charge. The debate on both sides was polemical and philosophical, which is where the critical quote comes in.

such battles are part of the forging of the tailing ponds of reality that flow out from the alchemical furnace of the present.

gallstone operations. erk.]

In the West [of Europe] the spirit of positivism made out that all laws were mere regularities. A belief in causes over and above regularities was an illegitimate residue of the metaphysical age. Hence it was quite in order to speak of statistical laws. 

from The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking

[The 19th Century battle to define the extent and power of the province of statistics and probability over the universe and humans. (as against the ‘German’ approach – myriad little causes, which generate statistical distributions, do not cause those distributions; so the distributions are not laws. But only law could constrain human freedom.) On such philosophical disputes huge edifices of political, personal and social perception are built.]




A vast yet seemingly invisible presence hovers over the northern suburbs of London. Screened from the consciousness of the city dweller by the pressures of the day-to-day, by self-concern and an inward-looking and anthropocentric culture, the North Middlesex/South Hertfordshire escarpment – or Scarp as I prefer to call it – broods and waits.

from Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou

[Scarp’s a psychologically and stylistically raw, uneven book, but I like the anti-humanist, slightly alien de-anthropocentrised approach, there’s something Ballardian about it.]




She was expecting a dressing room out of some movie musical? What she finds; is a sort of casually upgraded ladies’ toilet, stall partitions and so forth – some, to be sure, with glittery stars taped on the doors – a litter of pint liquor bottles, roaches both smokable and crawling, used Kleenex, not recognizably a Vincente Minnelli set.

Stu Gotz is sitting in his office, with a cigarette in one hand and a paper cup of something ambiguous in the other. Soon teh cigarette will be in the cup. He runs a lengthy O-O. “You want to audition, MILF night is Tuesdays, come back then.”

from Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

[I’m enjoying Bleeding Edge – here the internal uptalk, the easy use of emoji shorthand, conversation, thought and descriptions full of wide-ranging referents, the fooling about in the playpen of expression, the easy indifference to proprieties. That reminded me of a phrase from Blanchot’s famours Gaze of Orpheus essay:

Il introduit, dans le souci de l’œuvre, le mouvement de l’insouciance où l’oœuvre est sacrifeé : la loi dernière de l’œuvre est enfreinte, l’œuvre est trahie en faveur d’Eurydice, de l’ombre.

(It adds a certain carelessness to creative carefulness – a carelessness that sacrifices the work of art. It infringes the work of art’s most sacred law, betrays the work for Eurydice, for a shade.)]


well, that faith/soul axis seems a bit fucked right now, but there’s always hope.

The Usual

November 20, 2013

I was sitting quietly in the corner of an entirely fictional pub the other day and overheard the following conversation at the bar:

‘I’ll tell you something, You never hear of the idiot and the dog these days.’

‘Not these days, no.’

‘I wonder what happened.’

‘The usual I expect.’


[They contemplate The Usual]

‘Well, no great hole, and I’m sure and I’ll survive.’


Fired by this burst of public enthusiasm, but aware that there was nothing to be done about what they had quite correctly identified as The Usual (horrific, mundane, inescapable), I felt I could at least make some half-hearted attempt to keep the ashes warm…

In fact, I thought, as I munched on my entirely notional bag of dry-roasted peanuts, the act of writing seemed very like the act of trying to light, maintain, and stay warm by, a peat fire. You have a little kindling, which will give the initial flame, and a large amount of damp, old, cheap compressed earth, which will form the substance of the fire. You also have yesterday’s paper, the crossword a scant third completed, and a barely flammable box of matches. By means of these, plus a fuckload of artificial firelighters (placeholder for drink and drugs let’s say), you eventually light the kindling, the flames giving an initial burst of optimism. Once you have got this burning nicely, you put on a large piece of peat, which immediately stifles the flames and creates a deal of smoke. You find more quickly-burning material to throw on it, and through a mixture of cosseting, extreme care and a fuckload more firelighters, eventually get the underside of the peat to start glowing, though it’s clear the outcome of the entire time-consuming enterprise is never anything less than dubious.

If you are lucky, lucky mind, the peat will reach a critical temperature and start, well burning would be too much, smouldering in a way that suggests it is not imminently going to stop. Success. You may place on more peat.

The fire itself will of course never give off any heat, unless you hold your hands very very close to it, – ie can be considered no sort of success in and of itself – and will require almost constant care and attention merely to keep the semblance of it going. Nevertheless it may offer some private pride and a little local warmth.

You have read stories about how families kept the thing going perpetually, the slow-burning nature of peat allowing the fire to lie in abeyance overnight, only to be revived the next morning with the addition of more peat and a little careful blowing. Thus the fire never goes out, and provides a constant source of much-needed warmth and sustenance for the entire household.

Naturally, what you see the next morning is little sustenance and a load of ashes, still somewhat warm yes, but clearly very far from being of any use to anyone or anything, even yourself with your very low threshold of success.

You rake out the grate, make a cup of tea, put on your heaviest jumper and two pairs of socks, and fetch the duvet from the bedroom, before settling to today’s crossword.

Of course, if The Usual is anything, it is an acknowledgement that flames do not burn forever.

So, rather than even attempt anything of worth, I’m going to set the bar low and use this place as a weekly record of Things I Have Liked Or Found Mildly Diverting. Basically youtube embeds and a couple of quotes.

As a USP it might need some polishing. Crowds or even small mildly diverted groups I do not expect.

2012-12-04 20.36.37


November 17, 2013

ah, wonderful and frightening days: Kommandant Mark E Smith and gruppe surveilling London and London people from a jeep. ‘Day 5’ in the Zagreb set of songs (anyone recall what Day/Movement 4 was?), and slap bang in the middle of Smith’s period of fascination with mitteleuropa, a feature of which was his oft-repeated slogan ‘Before the grub, comes the moralist’ (a reversal of Brecht’s dictum, ‘First grub; then moralist’ in the Threepenny Opera):

A song so heavily characterised by Smith’s trademark suffix of ‘uh’ to all but words with it already there that they released a b-side version called Free Ranger.

Euston, We Have a Problem

November 11, 2013

from J.-P. Falret’s 1822 dissertation on hypochondria and suicide, giving the predisposing causes of suicide:






reading novels


theatrical productions






lrb copy eds need greater knowledge of youtube pop

May 12, 2013

Enjoyed reading Diarmaid McCulloch’s piece on the Council of Trent in the latest LRB – One Enormous Room (DMc uses a quote from Kenneth Clark at the beginning ‘I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room’)

But it really, really needed to be titled ‘One Big Room, Full of Bad Bishops’


And we sound like Luther Luther Peter Peter Bishop of La Cava

Them basic bishops give a shit, but I don’t even bother.


I got Tridentine plenum

I got that ius divinum

Open Papal representative

Trust me in your diocese

Yeah you can kiss the ring, but you can never touch the crown

I smoke a million Reformation butts and I ain’t never coming down

Bish, you ain’t et Orbi

I see you work in Urbi

Council II, Supersize

Hurry up, need Luuumen.

Gnarly, radical

Ex cathedra magical

Santa Maria Major, Concilium episcopal.

Call me if you need a fix,

Call me if you will recuse,

See them Presbyterians

They don’t ever leave the group.

We’re in the Adige, cruising,

We’ve got the stolen plate

Serving Pope Paul 3 over there in the City State

Trent’s colder than a fridge or a freezer

We’re snatching all your bishops at our LEISURE.


One big room, full of bad bishops.



Luther Luther Peter Peter Bishop of La Cava

We’re looking at Madonna but we’re glossing the Church Fathers,

Paul – you know I keep that work in my trunk,

Got the Law on sole faith, if you wanna press your luck.

We’re yelling “free matrimony”,

Till we get Tametsi,

Young, rich and flashy

I’ll be with Medici

You can’t find that? I think you need a Danti map

My Florentine Pitti pals, did push Savanarola back.

Encycle that, my groupies follow the Curia,

I’m writing up a Vulgate and calling I Loyola

While you’re looking bitter, I’ll be looking better

The type of bishop that you wish was present at Nicæa.

Nuncio, director, plus I’m my own boss,

So plush, mitre fierce with the gold gloss

Which means nobody getting over me

I got the swag and it’s pumping out my monasteries.


One big room, full of bad bishops etc.


Ohhh, all you basic-ass monks out there?

Man I got a room full of bad bishops.

They don’t need Zwingli, they don’t need Luther. Calvin.

my favourite people in *religion and the decline of magic* so far

May 11, 2013

the antinomian who declared that he would sell all religions for a jug of beer

the butcher in the diocese of Ely in 1608 who set his dog on the people as they went to church

Brian Walker, who in 1635 was asked if he did not fear God, retorted that, ‘I do not believe there is either God or Devil; neither will I believe anything but what I see’ and who as an alternative to the Bible commended ‘the  book called Chaucer.’

A Cambridgeshire man was charged with indecent behaviour in church in 1598 after his ‘most loathsome farting, striking, and scoffing speeches’ had occasioned ‘the great offence of the good and the great rejoicing of the bad.’

The Bexley man who in 1313 made images of wood and stone in his garden and worshipped them as gods, before proceeding to kill his maidservant [obv that bit’s not so good]

When Mr Evans, rector of Holland Magna, Essex, preached in 1630 about Adam and Eve making themselves coats of fig-leaves, one loud-mouthed parishioner demanded to know where they got the thread to sew them with.

of confusion regarding communion: At one church in the area there were only two male communicants. When the cup was given to the first he touched his forelock and said, ‘Here’s your good health, sir.’ The second, better informed, said, ‘Here’s the good health of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ At Chippenham a poor man took the chalice from the vicar and wished him a Happy New Year.

the salutory story of the man of sixty who had all his life attended sermons, twice on Sundays, and frequently on other occasions in the week. yet the answers he gave the minister who questioned him on his deathbed spoke for themselves:

Being demanded what he thought of God, he answers that he was a good old man; and what of Christ, that he was a towardly young youth; and of his soul, that it was a great bone in his body; and what should become of his soul after he was dead, that if he had done well he should be put into a pleasant green meadow.

the people in 1547 of one parish in Cambridge where, ‘when the vicar goeth into the pulpit to read that he himself hath written, then the multitude of the parish goeth straight out of the church, home to drink’

Lady Eleanor Davis, who in 1625 ‘heard early in the morning a Voice from Heaven, speaking as through a trumpet these words: “There is nineteen years and a half to the Judgment Day”‘. From then until her death in 1652 she had a continuous career of prophetic utterance, interrupted only by consequent periods of imprisonment. Contemporaries believed her to have predicted the deaths of Charles I, Laud and Buckingham, as well as that of her first husband. her ecstatic and utterly obscure pronouncements were frequently printed, and as frequently suppressed. In 1633 she was imprisoned and heavily fined by the High Commission for illegally printing at Amsterdam a commentary on Daniel in which she made dark predictions about the fate awaiting Laud and Charles I. A few years later she went berserk in Lichfield Cathedral, defiling the altar hangings and occupying the episcopal throne, declaring she was the Primate of all England. This led to a further period of restraint.

two bits of commentary from Keith Thomas worth quoting as well:

[In the Elizabethan period] a substantial proportion of the population regarded organised religion with an attitude which varied from cold indifference to frank hostility.


Not enough justice has been done to the volume of apathy, heterodoxy and agnosticism which existed long before the onset of industrialism.

Cannot be said enough. It is not something we have just discovered, or to be used as some indicator of ‘progress’ – worldly indifference is persistent.