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Monday, February 26, 2007

Three Things

The three things a film needs, Jean Luc Godard said, are a girl, a gun, and a car.

The three things a song needs, Tom Waits, are a car, a place name, and a sandwich. Or something like that.

The three things a good book needs are...? Suggestions please.

I propose:
1) Touaregs with guitars.
2) An industrial estate.
3) A chinchilla.

Capricious Caprine Capers

'Goat fronting', that's what the pronunciation of the letter o in these parts is called. As in (does the sound) 'I don't know'.

A man from round here was up in court for having sex with a goat. He was spotted from a train by someone who rang the police. He denied all charges, but fibres of goat were found in his underpants.

More a case of goat-rearing than goat-fronting, to be pedantic, depending on how many ecstatic O's he gave vent to during the incident.

There is no animal-themed linguistic name for the other distinctive local vowel pronunciation, of the long i sound. As in the exchanging of palm-slaps while listening to a stereo in an apartment block: ah fahves to the ah-fah in the ah-rahse.

Except there is now because I've just invented one. Stoat-worrying. That's what it's called.

Guinea Pigs

I was in the local pet superstore yesterday and noticed they had this big sock thing in the guinea pig enclosure. A guinea pig would go in one end, and a minute or two of rummaging around later would emerge at the other end. Sometimes a group would go in together and emerge in nothing like the order they went in. It reminded me of a particle accelator. Just think of the hell on guinea pig earth inside there, the gamma rays and sodomised electrons bombarding their poor little bodies tossed this way and that. And all in the name of so-called 'science'.

Paul Robeson

Not many people know this, but Paul Robeson once went through a profound hypochondriac stage. He stayed in his hotel room with cold compresses on his head drinking Lemsip all day. His manservant felt very left out. Then one day he got in the lift only to find himself standing opposite American Nazi Party founder George Rockwell. He lunged at him, planting his teeth in the loathsome racist's wrist, then got out at the next floor and ran to join his boss in bed for a Lemsip. 'What's all this then?' inquired Robeson. 'I'm just like you', explained his manservant, 'a valet chewed an Aryan.'

Saturday, February 24, 2007


You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first beneath
The sheets of paper lies the truth
I have to go, I have to go
Your hair was long when we first met

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first

Regina Spektor, 'Samson'

God Save the Queen at Croke Park (The Croke Park Massacre)

Failure of eighty-thousand blazer-wearing southside Dubliners to tear English rugby team limb from limb during performance of God Save the Queen at Croke Park marks solution to all problems of Irish history, simultaneous end of Irish civilisation.

Attempt to Discover Life (cont.)

The going of the glade-boat
Is like water flowing;

Like water flowing
Through the green saw-grass,
Under the rainbows...

Attempt to Discover Life (cont.)

It was not far to the pub but the swing bridge was out. It was a damp night. I stood by the railings and watched the spar of the low-lying barge pass by and the wipers on the car on the far side wag at me, tut tut. There was a smell of plastic and hops in the air. On New Cleveland Street I had crossed a bridge over nothing. Where maybe once a river and now nothing and the nothing filled in. The barge passed, the bridge swung back into place and I crossed. On the next bridge up is a house, a signal box once where the coast railway ran and now nothing. The barge chugged on and vanished.

I'm a Loser Baby

I've always liked Alexander Payne's films, and am glad to see his I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is out this summer, but when I watch Sideways always feel the one scene in it that jars on me (where the Virginia Madsen character, Maya, starts holding forth on her philosophy of wine) is the key to a common misreading of the film's ending. If she is right for Miles (the film ends with him knocking on her apartment door) it is not just because he's ready for happiness again, but also because he has finally let go of his misplaced desire to be a writer. She is all right with his failure and confirms him in it, in other words, and far from being a happy ending it's a damning reminder of how what we class as happiness is usually just another word for failure.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Uncyclopaedists Bouvard and Pécuchet at work

Seeing an ad for yet another student production of The Vagina Monologues, I am reminded of what the Uncyclopaedia said about that play − that if God had wanted vaginas to talk he would have given them lips.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I remember a cartoon on a newspaper front page on 1 January 2000, in which one Y2K bug believer comforted another with the words, 'There there, it's not the end of the world.'

Prince Harry Sent to Iraq

(Said by Squadron Leader to Flight Officer Perkins):
“I want you to take up a crate, Perkins.”
“Fly over to Jerry.”
“Take a shufti.”
“And don't come back.”
“You are going to lay down your life, Perkins.”
“We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.”
“Goodbye Sah! – Or is it au revoir?”
“No, Perkins.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In Praise of Limestone

W.H. Auden at a hundred.

(...) But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Outer Mongolia

Beckett fact no. 84.

10 Beckett stages

1) The Peacock, Dublin. Junior relation to the Abbey and scene of Beckett’s performance, for two nights only, in Le Kid. ‘The Infanta might have cantered /like a shopwalker /through the Dämmerung /but she was not in training’, he helpfully explained in ‘The Possessed’, in reply to an unfavourable review.
2) The Abbey, Dublin. Murphy requests in his will that his ashes be flushed down an Abbey ‘necessary house’ ‘if possible during the performance of a piece, the whole to be executed without ceremony or show of grief.’
3) The Gate, Dublin. When Mary Manning (the Caleken Frica of Dream and More Pricks Than Kicks) asked for Beckett’s help with a production of her play Youth’s the Season, Beckett offered a character named Ego Smith whose philosophy of life might have interested Eleutheria’s Doctor Piouk: ‘My conception of the universe is a huge head with pus-exuding scabs – entirely revolting.’ When this failed to get past Edwards and MacLiammoir, Beckett proposed an offstage character who would spend the play noisily flushing a toilet. Not for the first time then, Beckett’s contribution to Irish theatre looked like going down the tubes. Mary Manning was the mother of American poets Fanny and Susan Howe, and brother of Beckett’s childhood friend John Manning, who accompanied Beckett on swims at the Forty Foot (as described in Company). Many years ago now I picked up John Manning’s copy of Endgame for a song in Greene’s Bookshop, Dublin, just opposite Beckett’s father’s offices, in whose garret Beckett had written More Pricks Than Kicks. Still on the Gate, early drafts of Krapp’s Last Tape indicate that he lives in North Great George’s Street, just round the corner from the Gate.

4) The Arènes de Lutèce. This Roman arena has yet to stage a Beckett performance, to the best of my knowledge, but is the subject of an early French poem in which Beckett describes a doppelganger-style experience. Gabriel de Montillet, mentioned in passing, was a geologist. On my most recent walk around the area I found a plaque to Jean Paulhan, who lived nearby.

le socle du savant Gabriel de Mortillet

5) The New Arts Theatre, London. Home, briefly, to the first London production of Godot, subject to the Ego Smith-like scatological preoccupations of the Lord Chamberpot/Chamberlain, one of whose petitioners complained that ‘One of the many themes running through the play is the desire of two old tramps continually to relieve themselves. Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive and against all sense of British decency.’ The production transferred to the Criterion Theatre after 31 performances. You may remember Peter Bull, who played Pozzo, from such Stanley Kubrick movies as Dr Strangelove, in which he played Dmitri, the Soviet ambassador.
6) The Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. Handy for palm trees, but less so for Beckett productions, to judge from Godot’s disastrous first American run there, featuring Bert Lahr (of Cowardly Lion fame) as Estragon, whose belief that he was ‘top banana’ (rather than radish) in the production led to constant attempts to upstage Vladimir.
7) Pike Theatre, Dublin. Site of the first Irish production of Godot in Ireland in 1955, with director Alan Simpson changing the play’s first line to ‘Nothing doing’, much to Beckett’s annoyance.
8) San Quentin. Site of a 1957 production of Godot which had a life-changing effect on future Beckett actor and collaborator Rick Cluchey. If Cluchey had gone to prison twelve years later he could have caught Johnny Cash’s famed San Quentin gig and been inspired to pursue a lifetime devotion to black pants and shooting men in Reno just to watch them die, instead.
9) The Youth Theatre, Sarajevo, scene of Susan Sontag’s 1993 production of Godot. Amazingly, Sontag decided to dispense with the play’s second act, for the equally amazing reason that ‘Perhaps I felt that the despair of Act I was enough for the Sarajevo audience, and that I wanted to spare them a second time when Godot does not arrive. Maybe I wanted to propose, subliminally, that Act II might be different.’ I remember a cartoon from the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje at the time, showing a man with a noose around his neck walking despairingly through a wood all of whose trees had been reduced to stumps. Which suggests Sontag may have underestimated her audience somewhat. One of the Bosnian Serb leaders on the hill, by the way, Nikola Kolevic, was a English Literature academic and Shakespeare specialist.
10) Outer Mongolia. One of the great things about Godot is that the frustration of endless waiting is a universal theme, one we can all relate to, blah blah blah… except that’s not quite true. Sarah Jane Scaife has directed the play in Outer Mongolia in 2002 to an audience of nomads (lots of guitar-playing Touaregs, I hope) whose reaction to a play about sitting around doing nothing all the time and waiting for something that never happens was… yes, so what? What are you getting at here? ‘Their cultural and spiritual influences were Buddhism, Confucianism and Shamanism. They had grown up as nomads and waiting was simply a part of life’s journey. They did not seem to get the master-slave relationship and did not understand the West’s preoccupation with angst and personal space. They were used to living closely together.’ What emerged from the production, rather, was a concentration on how sound, form and silence combine to create meaning.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Wish to be a Touareg Nomad

I took my show camel, fettered and rested for days.
I departed deep in thought, following the hills.
I stop suddenly. I listen. Nothing at all.
Nothing but the wind whispering through the dry grass.

'Assouf', from Tinariwen's new album, Aman Iman, 'Water is Life'

Friday, February 16, 2007

Inexorable Purposefulness

Beckett fact no. 83.

To nail down the Beckett-Cioran nexus, finally, into a fact.

Bach forms a rare, possibly unique touchstone of affirmation in Cioran's work. As he told Benjamin in Ivry in 1989:

Sans Bach, Dieu serait diminué. Sans Bach, Dieu serait un type de troisième ordre. Bach est la seule chose qui vous donne l'impression que l'univers n'est pas raté. Tout y est profond, réel, sans théâtre. On ne peut supporter Liszt après Bach. (...) Sans Bach je serais un nihiliste absolu.

Whereas Beckett... bizarrely, inexplicably, blasphemously even... did... not... like... Bach. Marcel Mihalovici remembers his complaining of Bach's 'inexorable purposefulness', and Bettina Jonic reports Beckett comparing him to 'an organ grinder churning out musical phrases.' John Beckett put it down to Bach's 'seamlessness and short, endlessly repeated, musical phrases.'

Cioran's tribute to Beckett in Aveux et Admirations recalls the evening the two men spent in search of a French equivalent for the English title 'Lessness'. Cioran thought of Boehme's Ungrund, as a kind of subsoil to the Urgrund, and wrote to Beckett the next day with sinéité. Beckett replied that he had thought of it too, perhaps 'au même instant'. Except the two letters on this subject reproduced in Cioran's Œuvres don't seem to bear out this version. Judge for yourself (click to enlarge):

I can't make out all of Beckett's handwriting, I must confess. Transcriptions in the comments box please.

Another point of connection between the two men: Dieppe, whither Cioran would escape for short breaks, and the subject of Beckett's Hölderlin-inflected French-English quatrain, 'Dieppe'. In French:

encore le dernier reflux
le galet mort
le demi-tour puis les pas
vers les vieilles lumières

I said Cioran's love of Bach was a 'possibly' unique positive touchstone, because careful reading of his Œuvres suggests he had a dark, which is to say a bright side, normally kept well out of view: 'Je suis grand amateur de tango', he also told Benjamin Ivry, 'C'est une vraie faiblesse.' Of Beckett's dancing skills, I fear, as Watt would put it, 'nothing is known'.

Au Contraire

As recent posts may have hinted, no one loved a good ethnic generalisation more than Emil Cioran. And, sometimes as a direct corollary, no one loved an auto-revisionist hand break turn more either. I've mentioned the Jewish and Hungarian examples before, but here's another.

Writing on Beckett in Exercises d’admiration, he claims:

Il est important et il n’est pas important du tout que Beckett soit Irlandais. Ce qui est sûrement faux, c’est de soutenir qu’il est le “type même de l’Anglo-Saxon”. Rien en tout cas ne saurait lui déplaire davantage. Est-ce le mauvais souvenir qu’il garde de son séjour d’avant-guerre à Londres? Je le soupçonne de taxer les Anglais de “vulgaires”.

In this morning’s post came, at last, my copy of the Gallimard Œuvres (dig that ligature), and in among various goodies I didn’t have before, such as Le livre des leurres and Le crépuscule des pensées was a glossaire, a Cioran A-Z, under which we find the following entry for Beckett, as reported in conversation with Gabriel Liiceanu in 1990:

Il était resté intégralement anglo-saxon, et cela me plaisait terriblement. Il ne fréquentait les cocktails, se sentait mal à l’aise en société, il n’avait pas de “conversation” comme on dit. Il n’aimait parler qu’en tête à tête, et il avait alors un charme extraordinaire.

Anglo-Saxon? To be fair he did lose his mind in his last years, to Dr Alzheimer's sempiternal penumbra, misdiagnosed Anglo-Saxondom being one of the telltale early warning signs.

Seán Mac Réamoinn

Broadcaster Seán Mac Réamoinn has died, and this is the only, titchy photograph of him I can find. He once compared himself to an Irish census form, 'broken down by sex, age and religion.'

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Beckett fact (out of series).

Fact no. 31 referred to the Nyassa stamp mentioned in Molloy, and its grazing giraffe. It also yawningly confessed to not having tracked the image down.

Well here it is.

Many thanks to Donald M. Wilson for this.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Amertume: my favourite word.

Charles Dantzig's Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française on the nonpareil of amertume, Chamfort:

Cet homme plein de rancoeur ne s'aimait pas, finissant par concevoir la rancoeur contre lui-même; ne s'aimant pas, il n'aima plus rien. Je me demande si on peut se créer un caractère plus malheureux.

'M. d'Ormesson, étant contrôleur général, disait devant vingt personnes qu'il avait longtemps cherché à quoi pouvaient avoir été utiles des gens comme Corneille, Boileau, La Fontaine, et qu'il n'avait jamais pu trouver. Cela passait; car, quand on est contrôleur général, tout passe.' (Produits de la civilisation perfectionée)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Not So Recent Irish Poetry

Beckett fact no. 82.

Ten Irish Poets in Beckett, as mentioned in 'Andrew Belis''s 'Recent Irish Poetry' (1934).

1) Pamela Travers. Australian by birth, and an assitant to AE. Creator of Mary Poppins.
2) F.R. Higgins. Hearty 'smell of dung' notwithstanding, this victim of the antiquarian 'centrifugal daemon' features, like Austin Clarke, largely as a convenient punchbag, as he does in the introduction to Paul Muldoon's 1986 Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, in which we find him chastizing Louis MacNeice for failing to attend to the 'blood-music that brings the racial character to mind.' Which makes it ironic that he received such an unabashed sectarian savaging from Patrick Kavanagh for the crime of being an Irish Protestant with the temerity to write about Catholic peasants, and odd too that post-avant-friendly Keith Tuma has recently been anthologising him with something approaching zeal.
3) Geoffrey Taylor, praised for The Withering of the Fig-Leaf and It Was Not Jones, published under the name Geoffrey Phipps and the pseudonym R. Fitzurse respectively. He dropped the family name Phipps on being disinherited by his father for the crime of voting for Eamon de Valera. He was one of the two 'chaps' to whom Laura Riding bade goodbye (Robert Graves being the other) before she jumped out a window in Majorca and squashed her coccyx.
4) Cecil Salkeld, artist and future father-in-law of Brendan Behan, whose poundings on Beckett's door in Paris use up a few pages of Cronin's biography. Of Salkeld's poetry, Beckett wrote to MacGreevy in 1936 that he was 'immensely impressed by it'. Salkeld was a notoriously Oblomovian sluggard and bed-hogger.
5) Blanaid Salkeld, wife of the above. Author of Hello Eternity! (1933), The Fox's Covert (1935), and ... the engine is left running (1937). Beckett's praise for her work has prompted some small academic interest, though nothing on the scale of the Irish modernity cottage industry in Devlin/Coffey/MacGreevy studies.
6) Brian O'Higgins, aka Brian O hUiginn, aka Brian na Banban ('Brian of Ireland'). Author of The Voice of Banba: Songs and Recitations for Young Ireland (1907): 'On, on with Irish Ireland; /Leave the Saxon mireland...' Neglected genius.
7) An Philibín, pen-name of John Hackett Pollock (1887-1964) (anything to Watt’s Hunchy Hackett? We can but idly wonder.) Dublin doctor and founding member of Gate Theatre. Books include Athens Aflame, The Secret Altar and Grass of Parnassus. An Philibín is the Irish for plover.
8) Miss Large. Who the hell is Miss Large? J.C.C. Mays suggests in the Field Day Anthology printing of 'Recent Irish Poetry' that this is a private sexual reference of Austin Clarke's, but he errs. She is D.M. Large, popular author of Talk in the Townlands, The Cloney Carol and other verses etc.
9) John Lyle Donaghy. A Larne man, involved not very successfully in Dublin theatrical life, lived in Glencree and later London. His books are At Dawn Above Aherlow (1926), Ad Perennis Vitae Fontem (1928), Primordia Caeca (1929), The Flute Over the Valley: Antrim Song (1931), The Blackird: Songs of Innis Fail (1933), Into the Light and Other Poems (1934), and Wilderness Songs (1942), if anyone fancies going and reading them. I did, and found them fair to middling, and a lot better than the abominable co-authored book that Coffey and Devlin published in 1930.
10) AE. Mentioned earlier in connection with Pamela Travers. Was known to scrutinize Beckett's submissions to The Irish Statesman for obscene acrostics, and receives some scurrilous from Beckett in his letters to MacGreevy. Miss Carridge in Murphy reads his The Candle of Vision, and Mr Case in Watt his Songs by the Way, except in French Murphy Miss Carridge's reading tastes have subtly altered: there we find her reading Madame Rosa Caroline Mackworth Praed's Roses de Décembre. So it goes in the world.

Home I'll Never Be

Still listening to: Tom Waits's Orphans.

Across to Mississippi, across to Tennessee
Across the Niagara, home I'll never be
Home in ol' Medora, home in Ol' Truckee
Apalachicola, home I'll never be

Road to Opelousas, road to Wounded Knee
Road to Ogallala home I'll never be
Road to Oklahoma, road to El Cahon
Road to Tahachapi, road to San Antone

Robert Johnson

Among the many non-existent original poets 'translated' by Mangan is the Gaelic bard Charles Boy McQuillan, which sounds like a Delta bluesman to me. And which prompts the comparison: if Yeats is Irish poetry's B.B. King, getting the record deal and going global, then Mangan is obviously this man:

Boer Constructor

Mangan would perform his religious devotions prostrate in the vault of Saints' Michael and John's Church on the quays.

Hints of apocalypse in the air. Charles Walmesley, author of The General History of the Christian Church, predicted that all Irish Protestants would be wiped out in 1825. One 'Pastor Fido' responded with a rival prophecy that the Pope was the Antichrist and would be destroyed the following year.

Comparison of the father to a boa constrictor in the Autobiography. Compare Shem the Penman in Finnegans Wake: 'Mynfadher was a boer constructor.'

The Lord’s Prayer begins, in Irish, Ár n-athair atá ar neamh, Our father who art in heaven. The Irish for a poisonous snake is a nathair nimhe. Peculiar similarity. I wonder if Joyce noticed it.

And yes I know boa constrictors aren’t poisonous.

James Clarence Mangan

James Clarence Mangan, neglected far too long on this blog. The Clarence by way of Richard II but also Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda. ‘Haunted by an indescribable feeling of something terrible’ from boyhood on. Working as a scrivener (insert Bartleby comparison, footnote to Susan Howe here) in York Street, Dublin, he found himself down the road from the Reverend Charles Maturin, author of Melmoth the Wanderer, whom he would follow in the street at an awe-stuck distance. One peculiar strand of the fomenting antiquarianism of nineteenth-century Ireland was Charles Vallancey’s belief that the Irish were descended from the Phoenicians, ‘Prov(ing) us mere Irish to be Orientals.’ Hence perhaps Joyce’s decision to place the character of ‘Mangan’s sister’ in ‘Araby’, whose narrator embarks on a fruitless journey to the Araby bazaar in search of a love token for her. And hence perhaps, among other reasons, Mangan’s consuming interest in Arabic writing, such as these charming epigraphs:

There’s not a bower in Eden but thy sofas have a place in,
And the moon and sun dance night and morning in thy wash-hand basin.


My heart is a monk, and thy bosom his cloister:
So sleeps the bright pearl in the shell of the oyster.


And finally, ‘Double Trouble’:

I am blinded by thy hair and by my tears together;
The dark night and the rain come down on me together.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Little Blurts Midget Grammar

I am my surroundings. I am whatever distracts me: these signs in the street, whispering hoardings I pass, voices from nowhere. Christian Bi[ ]le Fellowship, Happy Hour All Day: Open Fire. This car radio dial I turn. Barry’s in Thirsk and he’s got a point about policing. Hi Barry. Steve’s in Dagenham and he’s been at today’s game. This interference. This noise in your ear drowning me out… Hi. Hi. I was at the game today and I just wanted to say how angry I am, I’m so angry. … is me. This rag you glance at and throw aside, these headlines. Man’s frustration at missing wife hunt. Scientists find potent shark repellent. I am what stops you from hearing me. This dial you turn. And the summary: vigorous depression. A shout in the street. Hey, I’m talking to you!

From One Untenable Position to Another

Hey, I ask myself, I’m downstairs, where are you?

In search of the lost art of concentration.

I coin a word, ‘hypotenusate’, meaning to cross the road in a diagonal manner. Example: ‘Saw you hypotenusating that zebra crossing the other day, you lazy so-and-so.’

I start with the first hapless passer-by in the street (they’re all good) or some shop or café I’ve walked into (they’re all good too), pretend to get very worked up about something or other, nothing really, then lose interest all of a sudden, by which time the moment has passed, and I’m safe, safe, safe.

Hey, I’m upstairs, where are you?

I live in the bread bin, I hide in your pocket, I drink only rainwater from the saucepan that I hold out the catflap.

The film costs – I know how much the film costs, but how much to sit here between films, to watch the curtain, to sit with the lights up and wait?

On the news I learn of a man who has spent two days trapped in a gorse bush. A man trapped in gorse bushes for two days has spoken of his ordeal. First it was funny, then it wasn’t. ‘At first it was funny, but before I knew it I was stuck.’ One minute he was in his bush, then the next he wasn’t. When he was finally rescued by a helicopter crew he was numb from the waist down. This is the news. A man was in a gorse bush and then he got out.

Hey, I’m upstairs, where are you? I’m downstairs, where are you? But I just came from downstairs, how come I missed you? But I just came from upstairs, I must have missed you! So where are you now? I just went upstairs again! But I just went downstairs! We must have passed on the stairs! We must have done! What the fuck? What the fuck???

The flowers on the underpass are rotten now, they were rotten then, they were always rotten.

Hey, I’m upstairs, where are you?

Can you come here for a minute?