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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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






Sordello – Book the First

April 22, 2012

Browning’s early long poem Sordello has got a bit of a reputation for being difficult. I started it yesterday and suspect that reputation must be built largely on its notorious reception – I won’t rehearse the usual anecdotes, but Opta stats show of an edition of 500 copies only 157 were sold, while 86 were given away to reviewers and friends since the publication of the poem. Poor Browning! We’re not talking ziggurats at the front of Tesco here. And he really thought he was writing something accessible:

in 1850 John Westland Martson told Rossetti [DG] that ‘Browning, before publishing Sordello, sent it him to read, saying that this time the public should not accuse him at any rate of being unintelligible (!!)’.

I started reading it yesterday and I’m not really sure it’s as unintelligible as all that, tho there are admittedly difficulties. Here are some appropriately disordered thoughts having read Book 1:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comparing Meerkats

February 20, 2012

So I’m reading Apes and Ape Lore by HW Janson. I love this book! I’ve read it before but I got it out of the library again because there was a tiny reference to marginal snail combat in it that I was trying to truffle out. I ended up reading a lot of it again. It’s an exhaustively detailed catalogue of the history of the portrayal of the ape in medieval and Renaissance times. Much of it is a very careful working out of a taxonomy of ape motifs. The book as a whole expresses very well the virtue of going so deep into one relatively minute subject that it starts to blossom into all sorts of strange areas and become paradoxically inclusive. There’s plenty of room for anecdote: I particularly like the the Spanish-Galician story that relates how a man climbed into a tree in order to frighten the Saviour and found himself changed into an ape.

The chapter titles are very enticing as well:

Figura Diaboli: The Ape in Early Christianity

The Ape as Sinner

Similitudo Hominis: The Ape in Medieval Science

The Ape and the Fall of Man

The Fettered Ape

The Ape in Gothic Marginal Art

and so on. And of course it’s all related in a dry, droll academic style of the specialist.

I found a footnote that well expresses the soothing poetry of this sort of writing, with its German citations, the rather Quixotic romanticism of the pursuit for historic truth through MSS, the careful and accurate-feeling balance of assertion and doubt. In the main text, I was reading:

The Ecbasis captivi, probably the earliest animal epic of the Middle Ages (c.940), mentions the ape (simia deformis) and the monkey (cerula catta maris) in a few lines as keepers of the king’s bed and light, but does not let them take any part in the action of the story.50 <—————– footnote.

CANNOT RESIST THE FOOTNOTE. Even if it is an end-of-chapter note requiring the sort of digital dexterity normally only required for Fighting Fantasy books.

footnote——————> 50 Ed. Ernst Voigt (Quellen u. Forschungen zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte der GermanischenVölker,  VIII) Strasbourg, 1875, lines 654, 656. Erdman (Dtsch. Archiv. IV, 2, 1941) suggests a date of c.1040 for the epic. The term catta maris is of particular interest, since it is obviously a translation of the German Meerkatze (guenon) and thus represents the earliest reference to the latter word, at least a century before Hildegard of Bingen, who is cited in Grimm’s Wörterbuch and other dictionaries as the first datable instance of the term. The fact that the word was interpreted to mean “(trans)marine cat” as early as the tenth or eleventh century, would seem to throw further doubt on its proposed derivation from the ancient Indian markata, already protested by Fr. Kluge, Etymologisches Wörterbuch d. Dtsch. Sprache, Berline-Leipzig, 1934.  

In case you’re wondering about the modern application btw:

Etymology:  < South African Dutch meerkat (Afrikaans meerkat ), transferred use of Dutch meerkat a long-tailed monkey of the family Cercopithecidae

The forms mier-cat , mier-kat , mierkat reflect the Afrikaans variant mierkat (with the first element altered by folk etymology after Afrikaans mier ant, termite).

Actually I’ve spent most of the time writing this trying to remember which Half Man Half Biscuit song has the line MEERKATS ARE CLICHED at the beginning. It seems to be from a live performance of You’re Hard at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1999, but I can’t find any recording although I’m pretty certain it was broadcast on Radio 1 at the time.

I know it’s not the same, but here’s some Hildegard of Bingen chawn. Although like most medieval writers and philosophers she was more of an aggregator than originator, in her Physica she was one of the first people Classical or Medieval to emphasise the shared menstrual cycle of the primates with humans, singling this feature out from a more or less mystical/magical 6th century tract by the Egyptian Horapollo. Of course Nigel Blackwell transmutes the intense sadness of modern England to the gold of wry humour that enables us to get to the end of our natural life without recourse to our own hand. Nevertheless he can take a back seat for once:

lol the start of that video’s pretty odd.

With how sad steps, o Moone, thou climb’st the skies

May 31, 2011

Loving in truth, and faine in verse my love to show,

That she deare she might take some pleasure of my paine:

Pleasure might cause her to reade, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pitie winne, and pitie grace obtaine

Astrophil  and Stella – Sir Philip Sidney


Lost All My Friends, Can’t Sleep For Bad Dreams

March 23, 2011

Amusement arcades on the shore house the more recent automatics, horizontal glass-topped boxes on four wooden legs, where a penny releases a number of balls which can be projected by means of a spring through a series of illuminated hazards to score many thousands of points. For really high scores there may be prizes.

The Unsophisticated Arts – Barbara Jones (1951)

The Spoils of Victory

January 5, 2011


(pro-tip: if you’re feeling bored and bereft of entertainment substitute the words ‘book of lies’ in the Fall song ‘Book of Lies‘ with the phrase ‘Booker Prize’.  It perks up an otherwise rather unspectacular Fall song and makes you laugh if you think of Howard Jacobson’s face at the same time.)

2010: Year in Review

January 2, 2011

You are joking aren’t you?

In the words of Loudon Wainwright III: ‘Who in the world needs a review? Once was enough for me thank you’

(The only thing that I guess I might mention was that there was an amazing Ronald Searle exhibition in which the first item was drawing made in the Changi POW camp in Singapore, of a fellow inmate dying of cholera, which seemed to capture in its faint outline of skeleton and eye the very last ember of life in a man, the ultimate moment before death, the final point of humanity, so that just as death is the backdrop of satire this seemed to underlie all the splendid and proliferating grotesques and caricatures of his subsequent work. Pissed all over the Renaissance drawings exhibition anyway. Useful blogpost here.)

Still, lookit:

by Christopher Scoble

Yes,and one of those writers is Jocelyn Brooke! The other two are Richard Hooker and Joseph Conrad (eh? Oh, he wroteThe Rover there. Hmm.)

I should probably read that, shouldn’t I? Hmm.

Did I tell you I went down to Elham, the place where Brooke spent his holidays as a child? Don’t answer that, I know I didn’t. I half wrote a long piece about it which covered Memory and Loss and THIS COUNTRY which is sitting gathering dust in my drafts.

Maybe I should do a Doctor Who style trailer of what’s coming up in the next series on The Idiot and the Dog (which I’m thinking of renaming The Idiot and the Dog and the Fucking Albatross Around My Neck by the way).

*exciting nuclear war strings with endlessly perorating drums*






and… JOCELYN BROOKE! (that’s like the daleks bit – you know it’s coming you just don’t know when)

(obv when they do the tv trailers it usually means they’ve filmed at least some of it whereas when I write these words it means buggery fuck other than a platonic representation of the gossamer strands of mere noumenal conjecture that have haphazardly caught on the severed upturned and empty claw of my mind which strands are represented as the phenomenological fibs known as Fine Words, and as we all know fine words butter no parsnips).

It’s just I’m listening to this Rasputina album on spotify at the moment and I’m absolutely sure it’s very good but* it’s making it incredibly hard to concentrate. (*It’s got a song called Afternoon of the Faun on so perhaps I should have guessed, but it’s cunningly put near the end).

Don’t see why those without spotify shouldn’t have to put up with it –

See? idk is that any good? (This is where my critical faculties are at currently.)

I just want to listen to Waka Flocka Flame:

Maybe I should just rename it The Fucking Albatross.