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Friday, August 31, 2007

The Barrel Man

Many thanks to Mark for letting me know that the above image was lurking on the National Gallery of Ireland website.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Barrel Man

Viewed: The Barrel Man, at the Jack Yeats exhibition currently at National Gallery in Dublin. [Masefield and Yeats’s] ‘… holiday took them through Mayo. It was on this visit that Jack first saw and drew the Barrel Man act in a local fairground, an image which clearly haunted him. Jack’s annotations to the drawings indicate something of the savagery behind this particular circus stunt, in which the man himself faced an onslaught of sticks, disappearing down into the barrel when the going gets too tough. Many years later, in Humanity’s Alibi, the distilled experience of 1903 became an apocalyptic vision in which the daring and the courage of the lone figure rising out of the dark barrel to a face a sky filled with flying cudgels, evokes the battle of the individual against the destiny he chooses for himself, no matter how insane the choice may be.’

(Bruce Arnold, Jack Yeats)

Can't find an image of The Barrel Man, sadly. The man who picked up the sticks and handed them back to the crowd was called the Maggie Man. Yeats did a study of him too, but I can’t find that online either. Cudgels and brickbats seem in order.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Attack Upon Christendom

One of the good things about where I live is how utterly indifferent to religion people are. There was (rare sight) a street evangelist in town this morning, ranting and droning on, without anyone paying her the slightest attention apart from a passing drunk who chipped in with ‘God is gay’.

As someone who believes in nothing, or less than nothing, I often wonder whether my attraction to extremist religious thinkers like Kierkegaard or Simone Weil is to see them bear out the truth of Nietzsche’s observation that there was one Christian, and he died on the cross. Because when I read Weil, as I’ve been doing again recently, I find myself wondering how, if she’d tried, she could possibly have made being a Christian any more impossible than she makes it sound.

One of the great things about Catholicism (and I’m not being sarcastic here) is how easy it is to be Catholic without having the slightest idea what it is you’re meant to have signed up for. Take the real presence, for instance. As we all know, atheists in Catholic families are those annoying trouble-makers who always want to talk about God and religion, but when I quizzed a Catholic on this subject recently she told me ‘of course’ the communion wafer is only symbolic and not the actual body of Christ. That makes you a Protestant then, I said. ‘Why do you have to over-analyse everything?’, she replied, and that was as far as that particular theological discussion got.

Kierkegaard is very good on religion as superstitious cultural practice, in the paroxysms of splendid isolation he explores in later books like Attack Upon Christendom, and here is Weil outlining the authentic alternative in ‘Concerning the “Our Father”’:

‘We have to cast aside all other desires for the sake of our desire for eternal life, but we should desire eternal life itself with renunciation. We must not even become attached to detachment. Attachment to salvation is even more dangerous than the others. We have to think of eternal life as one thinks of water when dying of thirst, and yet at the same time we have to desire that we and our loved ones should be eternally deprived of this water rather than receive it in abundance in spite of God’s will, if such a thing were conceivable.’

What is this, all questions of negative theology aside, but spiritual anorexia? Weil is fatally drawn to, and secretly empowered by, a vacuum, by whatever cannot feed the self and leaves it ecstatically abandoned, as it deserves, wretched thing that it is. I don’t think it undermines or trivializes Weil to bring the anorexia comparison into a discussion of her writing like this, since even in its stony impersonality her theology proudly wears the stigmata of a personality at the point of total collapse. It sits contemplating a plateful of salvation and refuses to pick up its knife and fork. And that to me is what makes it such a good advertisement for Christianity. Become a Christian and go slowly, or even rapidly mad. Who’s up for that? Then face it, you’re all just a bunch of heathens anyway.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Very remiss of me not to have mentioned the tenth anniversary of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's death the other day.

Tim Buckley called him ‘my Elvis’, and when I read Cioran on the Sufi mystics in Tears and Saints I always think of Nursat.

This is three clips spliced together, which is a bit frustrating, but then again it’s almost impossible to listen to Nusrat except in extenso. You can’t just parachute down on the summit of one of his qawwali routines without the ten or even twenty minute slog to the summit first.

It’s also hard to know where to recommend a beginner should start, since there are so many Nusrat albums (hundreds of them). The Peter Gabriel-produced ones, I suppose, since they certainly did the trick for me.

Most of what I post on this blog is little better than an acid bath in my spleen, but before something like this even my inner Diogenes is prepared to take the afternoon off.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Snotmonsterus Moronicus Dulcissimus


This is Joybubbles, whose death I read about on Hapax’s blog. He was a pioneering phone phreak possessed of the ability to whistle down a phoneline at 2600 Hz, enabling him to make free international calls.

Among his jobs was test subject to scent researchers on projects such as pigshit smell control.

What a phreak.

Inspector Wittgenstein and the Northside Murder Mystery

I’ve always wondered why, with their Dublin connection, no one has thought of turning the Philosophical Investigations into a northside crime story.

Another case for Inspector Wittgenstein of the Ashling Hotel, Parkgate Street. The corpse of the eminent philosopher’s logical positivist phase lay bleeding to death outside Ryan’s pub. The inspector appeared strangely nonplussed. ‘The task of the investigation is not to change anything. We must simply see the situation aright. If I point to the bleeding corpse on the ground, you look at the corpse, not my finger. Yet if you did look at my finger, what would you see? Can the finger point to itself? If I say to the barman in Ryan’s, holding my pint up to the sunlight through the window, This Beamish is rather beamish, referring to a sunbeam, does the mind consciously register making the same sound twice but with separate referents? Would it be possible to ‘swap’ referents and still pronounce the same words? What would this mean?

Inspector Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. That’s one RTE adaptation I’d like to see.

With the Ashling hotel being so close to the Phoenix Park, I’m reminded of a story, which I think is in Anthony Cronin’s Dead as Doornails, of some Dublin wit or other wriggling out of the Good Friday drink moratorium by getting himself invited to a private dining club in the Zoo. This rankled somewhat with Patrick Kavanagh. When told that the wit in question got himself invited to so many free dinners because of the good conversational value for money he gave, Kavanagh begged to differ. The man wasn’t so funny, really, and ‘If he kept his mouth shut he’d eat a lot more dinners. Or something like that. How we laughed.

I still think wed have to go with Myles na gCopaleen as Inspector Wittgenstein’s sidekick though.

That plaque is in Glasnevin, by the way, not at the Ashling Hotel, though there’s one there too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Durham, Durham, Durham

Discussing salvation, disgusting salivation.

‘It is very difficult to please a man against his will.’ (Johnson)

‘Before they elect a new pope, the papal chamberlain, the cardinal camerlengo, hits the dead pope on the forehead with a silver hammer to make sure he is dead.’ (The Independent)

The Drowned and the Saved, the Downed and the Shaved.

The Irish Descartes: ‘I think therefore I am, I think.’

John Updike the author of a poem called ‘The Marvellous Bowel Movement.’

Tip of Mary Magdalene’s nose preserved in her shrine.

‘I’m getting a little behind.’ ‘When is it arriving?’

Robert Frost stopped setting his poems in orchards when told by a farmer that geese don’t roost in trees.

Durham, Durham, Durham (address of the Bishop of Durham.)

Latin official language of Hungarian parliament until the 1840s.

‘Iota of difference’: derives from religious debates of semi-Arians, for whom the Son was ‘like’ (homoiousios) the Father but not of one substance, with believers in the ‘co-substantial’ (homoousios) position.

‘We are cruelty free’ (sign in cosmetics shop).

And My Bowels Shall Sound Like an Harpe

Thaumiskomania: morbid indulgence in exclamation marks.

‘Each ejaculation a lost novel.’ (Balzac)

‘A walking joint of beef on whom God has lavished all the thoughts an imbecile can have.’ (Balzac on his publisher Gosselin)

Coleridge suggested his father’s greatest contribution to scholarship was the re-naming of the ablative case in Latin grammar with the ‘sonorous and expressive term of the Quippe-quare-quale-quia-quidditive Case!’

‘For you are such an ugly fellow!’ (Christ’s Hospital schoolmaster, adding extra stroke when beating Coleridge.)

Coleridge sworn in to 15th Light Dragoons at regiment headquarters in Reading: ‘a very indocile equestrian.’

‘Discharged, S.T. Comberbache, Insane: 10 April, 1794.’

Southey expelled from Westminster for editing a magazine, The Flagellant.

Coleridge on Southey: ‘He is truly a man of perpendicular virtue – a down-right upright Republican!

‘I am attracted by the notion of a hearty indifference to one’s own and other people’s feelings, when a fragment of the truth is in question.’ (Empson)

‘You don’t even know my name, and yet you ask who I am. The cheek!’ (Lacenaire, Les enfants du paradis)

‘24 People Killed, Tokyo, 1988-1994, Bowing Greetings to Each Other’ (headline, The Independent on Sunday, 26 June 1994.)

‘I am not at all surprised, when the red hot prejudices of aristocrats are suddenly plunged into the cool waters of reason, that they should go off with a hiss!’ (STC)

To ‘glide down the quiet rivulet of life, a Trout!’ (STC)

‘I think the subject of Pregnancy the most obscure of all God’s dispensations – it seems coercive against Immaterialism – it starts uneasy doubts respecting Immortality & the pangs which the Woman suffers seem inexplicable in the system of optimism. Other pangs are only friendly admonitions that we are not acting as Nature requires – but here are pains most horrible in consequence of having obeyed Nature.’ (STC)

‘Wherefore my Bowels shall sound like an Harpe.’ (Isaiah, adopted by STC as motto for The Friend)

‘Escapes from Misery, a Poem’
‘Halo Round the Candle – Sigh Visible’ (titles of abandoned STC poems)

Finds Nanny laying the fire with torn-up Watchmen.

‘I mean to work very hard, as Cook, Butler, Scullion, Shoe-cleaner, occasional Nurse, Gardener, Hind, Pig-Protector, Chaplain, Secretary, Poet, Reviewer, and omni-botherum shilling-scavenger.’ (STC to Poole)

‘You know, I would not wish to touch with the edge of the nail of my great toe the line which should be but half a barley corn out of the circle of the most trembling delicacy!’ (STC to Poole)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Zombie Angelus

My favourite Irish television ‘programme’ has long been the Angelus. Apart from its catchy and easily memorized theme tune, there’s that whole Irish Catholic zombie flick element to it. Maura is fumbling with the washing in the back garden, trying not to trip over a senile and incontinent Pomeranian, wondering whether she’s remembered to put her Lotto numbers on, when all of a sudden, Bong! Bong! and the Angelus zombie moves in and steals her brain. She stands there, dumbfounded, all activity in her frontal lobes snuffed out. And then we’re on to the Angelus zombie’s visit to Jamesie in the local Dunne’s Stores for a tasty second course. Mmm, brain. The one drawback when it comes to the Angelus zombie’s evil supervillain status is that his powers appear to last only a minute at a time. We never get to see what becomes of Maura and Jamesie in post-zombie aftercare, but if they were out roaming the streets and chewing on the brains of passers-by, well, I presume the spin-off series would have come out by now.

I have an Angelus spin-off series I’d like to pitch though. The anti-Angelus. It’s set in zombieland, where people stand around like those annoying living statues you see on Grafton Street and whose bottoms you feel like heating with a cigarette lighter. Anyway, six o’clock comes, the Bongs! start to ring out, and all of a sudden Maura the wall-eyed zombie runs into the garden for a minute to start hanging out the washing, and Jamesie the lobotomized freak decides to start checking out your groceries.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I was thrilled to come across this story (though it's a bit old now) of a Pakistani academic who was threatened with blasphemy laws for telling a student that, since Mohammed founded Islam, he therefore cannot have been born a Muslim, nor were his parents Muslims. So he founded the religion but before he did he'd somehow already discovered it too. Ah, theology, comforting as ever.

Grimness and Death

Consider the photograph above, posted to my flickr account in April. A sample, you may think, of the self-conscious urban primitivism that has become synonymous with my name, in photographic circles. A knowing satire on concepts of compositional skill and interest in the visual arts. No, it was Inspector Knacker (me) at work on a pre-crime, like the bald woman in the tank in that film Tom Cruise was in, though I am neither bald nor a woman, and certainly couldn’t get along with Tom Cruise as a workmate without predicting, successfully, the daily crime of me shooting him out of a cannon in the general direction of whatever planet he came from.

The other night a body turned up on the road by the shutter on the left. It was an accountant who’d cooked the books to the tune of a telephone number, I hear (allegedly, let me add). Attempting to jump from an upstairs window to the speed boat he’d left waiting on the river, just out of shot to the right, he missed by a dozen yards or so. I could point to my photographic pre-crime evidence, such as the fact that Maizecor is an anagram of ‘I’m a Croze’, a reference to the Canadian actress Marie-Josée Croze, among whose film credits are Mensonges et trahisons, ‘The money was resting in my account’, and Ne le dis à personne, ‘Don’t say nowt’. The enormous Jacuzzi visible in the background, piped full of bubbling hot water twenty-four hours a day, was an obvious giveaway sign of dodgily conspicuous wealth.

Inspector Knacker at your service. Let me photograph your pre-crime scenes and I’ll get back to you with a fatuous report after the event.

‘You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape’, Michael Caine says in Get Carter to that bloke who went on to become Lord Mayor in Coronation Street. ‘With me it’s a full-time job.’ Then he pushes him over a balcony.

Grimness. Grimness and death. There’s a lot of it about. We’ve all been on the pavement. Some of us, to invert Oscar Wilde, arrive having stared at it from a great height.

Grimness and death.


James Joyce or Edouard Dujardin: take your pick, but whoever invented stream of consciousness narration obviously spent a lot of time in newsagents. Because I notice they encourage a strange form of verbalisation that, most of the rest of the time, it wouldn’t occur to us to express. I wish to buy a paper. I hand the woman a note. She says ‘Five pounds, thanks, Guardian, four pounds thirty, thanks love, bye.’ The change I can understand, but why mention the fiver? And the name of the paper? I know the name of the paper, that’s why I bought it. Is it to give me a chance to change my order now in case I really want to buy the Daily Wank instead but am too ashamed to ask? And why stop there? ‘Hasn’t had a shower this morning, that or someone’s been eating onions, five pounds, thanks’ etc? There was an episode of Family Guy where Peter decided to verbalise every part of his daily routine, which quickly earns him a punch from Lois over breakfast. No wonder Joyce had such problems with his eyes. He spent too much time in newsagents, picked up the verbalising habit, went around commenting on how smelly and ugly everyone was, and kept getting punched in the face.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Return of the Toad

The Surinamese English Studies Toad.

Possessed of an unshakeable belief that all works of English Literature are in fact about toads. Works including:

Kerouac, On the Toad
Shelley, Toad to the West Wind
Hardy, Far from the Madding Toad
Thomas, Under Milk Toad

Crow, by Toad Hughes
Roland Barthes, Discours de la Toad (he also reads French, somewhat haltingly)
Chaucer, The Canterbury Toads (getting desperate now) –
and {snip}

Not to be confused with the Paraguayan English Studies toad. The best he can do is some rinky-dink book claiming the semi-colon is a big Masonic plot. Tosser.

Now add your own toad-themed titles. Batrachianism is such a rewarding pastime.

Image found here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rosedale, North Yorks


A scops owl was chewing my finger this weekend. Not this one, which I found here, but a fair imitation of him.

Isaiah Berlin writes to Stephen Spender, 1936:

My colleague O’Neil […] went to a law Court where a man was condemned to 4 months for throwing a stone at a bird – against Goering’s new Reichsjagdgesetzbuch (Reich Hunting Code) – because that is bestial cruelty and the National Socialist Regime is opposed to cruelty in every shape & form.

Found in Graeme Gibson’s Bedside Book of Birds.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Underground Empire

A few years ago a new bit of Norway bubbled up to the water surface. A passing Brit decided he fancied a bit of it and planted a flag. I can't remember now whether he decided to claim it in the name of Old Blighty or as his private fiefdom, with feudal rights on any passing polar bears, local virgins about to get married etc. But anyway, Norway was having none of it (if this story was about Canada I could have done the 'Nunavut' joke at this point) because their constitution lays claim to all existing and future parts of the Norwegian landmass. So, any other bits of Norway that are still in the microwave already belong to them, even though no one knows yet when or where they're going to appear.

But now the Russians have gone one better with their brilliant idea of planting flags under rather than on top of things, or specifically the North Pole.

I tried that at my local the other day. It was with a quiet satisfaction that I watched my Erdinger settle on the bar before I told Alan the barman that'd be three twenty please. I then explained, for his benefit, that I'd tunnelled under the bar the previous evening and planted my flag directly under where we were now standing, complete with the Puthwuth coat of arms (raised finger rampant, flanked by a black and a ginger cat).

Let's just say I was very disappointed with his attitude. The next time I'm coming up directly through the floor.

Earth-surface dwellers, eh. What do they know.

You've no idea how difficult it is to get a flag to stay in upside down, by the way. But no one said the explorer's life was an easy one.

Florrie Forde/Lana Turner Deathmatch

Two opening lines, the first by O’Hara, the second by MacNeice:

‘Lana Turner has collapsed!’

‘I see from the paper that Florrie Forde is dead – ’

‘In MacNeice’s opening line’, John Wilkinson writes, ‘is heard the unmistakeable tone of the old bore at breakfast dismissively shaking The Times; there follows a patronising portrait of a popular singer and her audience “from slum and suburb”, progressively sentimentalized as wartime is invoked, before crashing gears into full-blown nostalgia with the final stanza celebrating an innocent “older England”. True Florrie Forde was no Billie Holiday, but O’Hara’s genuinely democratic spirit, embracing the humblest of bit-part B-movie players, could never have entertained this tone of patrician dismissive appreciation of artiste and audience.’

True, false?

I remember a thread on the poem’s discussion board about how very different that democratic openness Wilkinson praises in O’Hara would have looked coming from a Brideshead generation old Etonian (no slum child our Frank), whatever the hell he was having for lunch or however many Ghanaian poets he’d read that day.

True, false?

America fresh, England tired and jaded?

A Minger Speaks

Passed through the town of Immingham or Ming yesterday, an abbreviation that I suppose makes its residents certified mingers and no mistake. Looking the place up online I found, first, some derogatory comments, and then the following vindication:

hey,i liv in Ming n if ya got owt bad 2 say bowt it thn say it 2 da ppl tht liv eya,ive lived eya all ma life,n its ace,we got da boy racers,da lad chav's(fiter thn n e one u will eva see)nd chavettes am a chavette n wat u got against chavs/chavettes?dey dnt spel prprly ye so wot we r lazy get ova it find sumet new 2 critisize coz we av gd style n luk fkin ace,we al av dif taste its jst chav's n chavettes is beta thn urs,get a fkin life sad gits...

{Quotation ends}

Viva Ming.

Foot and Mouth Disease Returns, Slaughterhouses Closed for Business While Animals Slaughtered

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Accept Loss Forever (Kerouac)


Mohammad Nadir, former king of Afghanistan

The point. I mean, what is it? I mean, what is the point? That's what I want to know.


Ten random observations about Irish poetry.

1) The word ‘facilitate’, which is what people do at poetry workshops these days, is an abomination in the nostrils of the Lord.

2) When I write my memoirs, I will say the following two things about every writer I’ve known: I did all I could but in the end I wasn’t able to help him/her; He/she was always a great admirer of my work, you know.

3) The whole form and content of the debate about the Irish so-called avant-garde is an embarrassing spectacle to behold. Because Irish poetry is so formally conservative most of the time, even down to the level of page layout, anyone who shows evidence of having read Olson’s essay on Projective Verse is at risk of coming with a pre-issued avant-garde backstage celebrity pass. The fact of doing it at all stands in for the achievement. Whereas in a healthily functioning poetry culture, a critic should be able to write ‘This is the seventeenth book this year I’ve read this year that has grazed on a bit of Olson over breakfast. It is also crashingly boring.’

4) The problem with recent Muldoon is all down to food. The restaurants his poems eat in these day are way too expensive. Remember the long poem at the end of Hay about a credit card being refused in a very upmarket Paris eaterie? There may indeed be a great poem to be written on the dark night of the soul that is one bottle too many of Château d’Yquem. But that ain’t it.

5) Anyone whose mission statement these days is owning her okayness (to paraphrase a self-help book from The Simpsons) with being an Irish Woman Poet needs her head examined.

6) On the subject of politics, Irish poetry could really do with some raving far-right disgraces. I say this because whenever we’re told, as we often are, about how timid and apolitical Irish poets are, the underlying assumption is that they should be writing self-righteous letters to The Irish Times about US stopovers at Shannon airport. Can anyone think of an Irish poet with really interesting politics though? I’m struggling here.

7) Another of the strange things about the Irish avant-garde debate is… well, let me use the example of 1930s poetry to demonstrate. Irish modernism happens, gets forgotten about, and then gets endlessly rediscovered and re-evaluated. Leaving aside just how truly awful that first co-authored book by Brian Coffey and Denis Devlin was (has anyone else actually read it?), we get to read article after article about Beckett the modernist poet in relation to Coffey the modernist poet in relation to Devlin the modernist poet in relation to… anyway, you see where I’m going with this. The argument makes a break from the straitjacket of restrictive Irish studies only to check itself straight back into the selfsame clinic. Where are the studies of Beckett’s poetry in relation to the surrealists and all the other French poets of the 20s and 30s, many of whom he translated?

8) There’s a chap in the midlands called Desmond Egan, one of whose books I think I’ve seen, just the once, but who, anyway, is really famous in Japan, Finland, and Burkina Faso too for all I know. They all think he’s wonderful. He may even the most famous living Irish poet after Seamus Heaney, in Japan or Finland at least. So there.

9) I will not rest until Wingdings has become the font of choice of Irish poetry publishers.

10) Back of the book author mugshots should be replaced with pictures of writers’ arses. This at least, until my previous points, I feel strongly about.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


‘McCain Florida Co-Chair Says Fear of Black Man Made Him Solicit Sex for Cash in Park’.

That’s the kind of news headline I like to see. Oh my God, there’s an intimidatingly large black man in the gents, what will I do! I know, I’ll offer twenty bucks to ‘perform a sex act’ on him outside, and maybe he’ll let me live!

Let me try to come up with a headline as absurd as that.

‘Biologically Underinformed Junior Minister Noticed Hole Between Woman’s Legs, Decided Plugging it with Penis Only Way to Prevent Immediate Vital Organ Loss.’

Well come up with a better one then if you’re so fucking smart.

George Best Goes to Bikini Atoll

A little-known fact about George Best, apart from his having wasted his best years playing for the wrong team in red in the North West of England (though everyone knows that), is that he worked as an observer for the US military at the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests in the 1950s. He may have been only eight years old at the time, but they were the happiest days of his life, running around in the radioactive waste that gave his feet strange, hitherto-unknown footballing powers, and becoming the object of a cargo cult among the displaced natives. Ah, Bikini Atoll he would think to himself in later years as he phoned in a lousy performance for Fulham or opened another supermarket in Milton Keynes. He loved the place so much he decided to open a club called just that, Bikini Atoll. It was tough for him though, the combination of lap dancers (how not have lap dancers with a name like that) and free-flowing booze. Many an evening he’d sit through the cabaret act resisting the temptation to pour himself a glass of wine, but there was something about the last song of the evening that triggered a total loss of self-control. He’d jump up, grab the mic, sing his favourite schmaltzy Ronan Keating number, then really hit the sauce hard. ‘You have to develop a superego, George’, his counsellor would tell him, ‘the voice in your head that sees the temptation but shouts no, no no! Say superego to yourself and no to the other part of yourself, the weak part. And that song you sing, it’s like your trigger from The Manchurian Candidate or something. Don’t sing the song.’ George shook his head sadly. He knew temptation was just another evening away. His counsellor decided to follow him back to the club and secretly keep an eye on him, with the word ‘superego’ written in large letters on a special sign he’d made. As the crooner on-stage dragged ‘My Way’ backwards through a ditch for his last number George was already twitching. He leaped out of his chair uncontrollably. ‘Thank you ladies and gents, you’ve been a great audience’, he began. ‘You know… It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart’, he went on, reaching for a handy glass of wine. His counsellor jumped to his feet and launched himself at the stage, knocking George sideways. ‘Let me know that… You kneed me!’ cried George, clutching his privates in agony. But his counsellor was showing no mercy. He pointed to the superego sign. ‘You say Id, Best, when you sign off at Atoll.’

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Against Striving

Found a most bracing interview with Thomas Bernhard linked from Counago and Spaves. Here’s an extract.

Thomas Bernhard: So, I’ll just keep reading the paper, you don’t mind, do you?

Werner Wögerbauer: Well, no, by all means.

You’ll have to ask something and then you’ll get an answer.

Does the fate of your books interest you?

No, not really.

What about translations for example?

I’m hardly interested in my own fate, and certainly not in that of my books. Translations? What do you mean?

What happens to your books in other countries.

Doesn’t interest me at all, because a translation is a different book. It has nothing to do with the original at all. It’s a book by the person who translated it. I write in the German language. You get sent a copy of these books and either you like them or you don’t. If they have awful covers then they’re just annoying. And you flip through and that’s it. It has nothing in common with your own work, apart from the weirdly different title. Right? Because translation is impossible. A piece of music is played the same the world over, using the written notes, but a book would always have to be played in German, in my case. With my orchestra!

But when you ban future productions of your play ‘Der Weltverbesserer,’ (The World- Fixer) then that’s something similar, you are concerned about the fate of your texts.

No, because ‘Der Weltverbesserer’ was written for a specific actor because I knew he was the only one who could perform it, at that time, because there was no older actor like him, so it came about quite naturally. There’s no point having it performed by some asshole in Hanover, nothing would come of it. If there’s going to be nothing but trouble, you shouldn’t do it.

How do you explain the fact that you’re taken far more seriously abroad than you are in Austria, that you are actually “read” abroad whereas in Austria you’re considered primarily as someone who causes scandals?

That’s because outside Austria, in the so-called Romance and Slavonic worlds, there’s a greater interest in literature in general. It has an entirely different status which it lacks here. Here, literature has no value at all. Music is valued here, theatre is valued, everything else essentially has no value whatsoever. It’s always been that way.

As soon as you even act friendly to someone on the street, people don’t take you seriously, that’s enough to make them take you for a clown. What someone like that does can’t be of any value. It’s like in family life. If you grow up in a family, perfectly normal, with all the usual childish fun and what have you, then for the rest of your life people tell you you’re a charlatan, that it’s no good, that the boy who does nothing but make jokes should complain about his grandmother’s awful cooking, and that can’t be any good. And that follows you to the grave. And it’s the same with the state and the country as a whole. If you go about as a friendly person, you’re through. People treat you like a cabaret artist and that’s that. And in Austria, anything serious gets turned into cabaret, which takes the sting out of it. Any trace of earnest always ends up on the funny side – Austrians can only tolerate seriousness as a joke. In other countries, there’s still a sense of seriousness. I’m serious person, too, but not all the time, that would drive anyone mad, and it would be stupid. That’s the way it is.

Your characters and you yourself often say they don’t care about anything, which sounds like total entropy, universal indifference of everyone towards everything.

Not at all, you want to do something good, you take pleasure in what you do, like a pianist, he has to start somewhere too, he tries three notes, then he masters twenty, and eventually he knows them all, and then he spends the rest of his life perfecting them. And that’s his great pleasure, that’s what he lives for. And what some do with notes, I do with words. Simple as that. I’m not really interested in anything else. Because getting to know the world happens anyway, by living in it, as soon as you walk out the door you’re confronted with the world directly. With the whole world. With up and down, back and front, ugliness and beauty, perfectly normal. There’s no need to want this. It happens of its own accord. And if you never leave the house, the process is the same.

There is nothing but striving for perfection. You want to get better and better.

There is no need to strive for anything in the world, because you get pushed towards it in any case. Striving has always been nonsense. The German word “Streber” (striver – meaning swot or brown-noser) means something awful. And striving is just as awful. The world has a pull that drags you whether you like it or not, there’s no need to strive. When you strive, you become a “Streber”. You know what that means. It’s hard to translate into another region.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Found, Discontinued

I was in Virginia once and happened on ‘Mr Yates’s Trading Post’, whose proprietor appeared to be the long-lost brother of the old beardy guy from The Dukes of Hazzard, the world’s greatest ever television programme about hot pants and jumping through car windows in a southern state completely lacking any black folk. My, I loved that show. Mr Yates’ people had had to leave
Ireland many centuries ago, he explained, because otherwise they would have had their heads cut off.

I purchased from Mr Yates a copy of Addie J. Wood, Age 92’s Mountain Memories, autographed by the author too and dated 1994. Here is an extract more or less at random:

On left, several houses and trailers own by the Hooker family. Seven Day Adventist Church was built. Later has been used for Home Health Care.

Edgar Cassell garage and home on right. He was a Primitive Baptist Preacher. His daughter, Goldie (Tootsie) known as the news reporter to the Bugle paper.

Clifton old mill on left was in use for several years. Place now own by tourist. John Hall place, his granddaughter Lucy West, chief cook at Meadows of Dan School for many years live on left. Retired.

Posey Cassell live at the Lewis place on left. President and teacher at the normal school for teachers.

Cruise, Va was the postoffice.

Established February 16 1881
Postmaster – William W. Lee
Andrew Z. Clifton –
March 16, 1909
Discontinued – October 31, 1913

{Quotation ends}

I've got more of this stuff, you know, lots more. Give me a good reason not to unleash it on you by the bucketload.

Uncle Jesse. That was his name.

No Common Sense

Watching Local FC play a friendly against Newcastle last night, I overheard a man behind me in the queue for an ale pronounce on why the service was so bad.
‘It’s because they’re all university students.’
‘Ow’d ye mean like.’
‘No common sense.’
‘Some bloke there wants his ale and there’s a problem, right, and instead of saying, let me just deal with the next customer, he stands there without doin’ owt until the supervisor comes. Probably go home and write an essay about it. Twat. It’s all them universities’ fault.’

Lousy universities... always coming between us and our ale.

Local FC one - Newcastle nil.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Meat Substitute

Someone (not that Yahoo news man) has done a survey of vegans and sex and discovered they prefer not to get it on with people whose bodies are animal cemeteries. That means no vegan slap and tickle for you, cheeseburger-eater.

And faster than you can crack a meat substitute joke about what a tofu wiener and an Ann Summers vibrator have in common, out comes that old urban myth about vegans and body fluids. Or is it an urban myth? Because one of the vegans is quoted as saying ‘I believe we are what we consume, so I really struggle with bodily fluids, especially sexually.’

I too struggle with bodily fluids, as for instance when I decide to piss myself rather than get off my bar stool and walk to the gents. But if semen (that’s what we’re talking about here) is non-vegan, then why isn’t saliva too? Can vegans kiss, in other words? And don’t tell me it’s because spunk is alive and saliva isn’t. Because that’s not true, going on the little brown things swimming in around in it every time I spit on the footpath. Ringworm, I think they’re called.

Oh, and Fiona Apple is a vegan. She and I have come to a sensitive and humane understanding on body fluid disposal. But I swore I wouldn’t talk about that here. So I won’t.

Professor Frink, Professor Frink, He'll Make You Laugh, He'll Make You Think, He Likes to Run and Do the Thing with the.... Person?

I used a picture of Professor Frink in my last post. Simpsons fans will remember the episode in which, as an anti-crime measure, he designs a robot house that sprouts legs when anyone tries to burgle it and runs away.

A little-known fact about Professor Frink is a project he undertook for Evelyn Waugh as part of the novelist’s plans for getting into the British retail sector. Waugh was so impressed by the robot house idea, he thought what the market needed next was a chain of robot chemists that would move around and pay home visits to their customers. The shops would come with a PA system that roared his name out, just so everyone knew he was behind this brilliant scheme. Everything was going according to plan until that pesky civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr decided to get all nimbyish about it. His orchard was the pride and joy of his life, but wasn’t just any old orchard. It was devoted exclusively to a much-maligned tree, one that’s poisonous to cattle and is normally confined to graveyards. It was also, for reasons no one quite understood, arranged in a doughnut shape around the largest branch of Evelyn Waugh’ shop. No robot with a stupid megaphone shouting a fogeyish old novelists name was going to trample his beloved orchard underfoot. Anyway, the planning permission hearing went ahead, and as the novelist and the inventor made their way in they found the reverend trying to organise one of his trademark peaceful protests outside, complete with Pete Seeger, Bono and lots of other annoying old numpties holding hands and singing protest songs. Professor Frink’s patience snapped. He could stand it no more. Confronting his nemesis, he screamed: ‘These Boots were made for Waugh, King, and they’re going to Waugh-call over yew.’

237 Reasons Not to Have Sex

Pi is exactly three

Yahoo news has to be the dumbest news source online.

They’re always running lists of tips for how to get ahead in the workplace, like ‘keep your headset on at all times’. I hope my binman was reading that. ‘Don’t empty that one, Sid, he’s filled it with steaming cat shite again, dump it all over his doorstep instead’, Sid’s comrade in waste disposal screams at him outside my house. But Sid can’t hear him because he has his headset on, in ‘customer-facing’ mode awaiting any incoming calls.

Anyway, one of their headlines this morning was ‘Researchers List 237 Reasons For Sex. I’ve yet to read the full list, but here are my suggestions for reasons 170-175:

170: Man is blind, has been told by wife he has taken up painting with penis and needs to ‘dip his wick’.
171: Cannot face reading any more of that god-awful Ian McEwan novel.
172: Interpretive (interpretative?) dance performance, grant-aided by the Arts Council.
173: Research for creative writing diploma course at Asian Women
’s Drop-in Centre in Blackburn.
174: Trying to make cat jealous.
175: Washing machine one stained duvet cover short of full load.

Why do you have sex? I really, really want to know. Except no I don’t. Go and tell the man on Yahoo news instead. MLA referencing system please, and double spaces throughout.

Scansion for Beginners

‘Dumb fuck’ is a spondee.
‘Geebag’ is a trochee.
‘Ya hoor ya’ is an amphibrach.
‘Mingebubble’ is a dactyl. Or is it? Depends, I suppose.

‘The chocolate chimney sweep uses his purple-headed womb-broom for the dirtier duties’ is… nothing much at all, apart from a quotation from Viz character Roger Mellie I found when I ran out of examples and googled ‘unusual swear words’.

I also learned from this search that ‘goldfish shit’ is a Japanese term for sycophants and hangers-on. Because, as you will have noticed, the poo that comes out a goldfish’s bum hangs there for a while before dropping off.