Being and Becoming

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People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void, of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.

Milan Kundera
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

On Rectification

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Kafka liked to have his watch an hour and a half fast. Felice kept setting it right. Nonetheless for five years they almost married. He made a list of arguments for and against marriage, including inability to bear the assault of his own life (for) and the sight of the nightshirts laid out on his parents’ beds at 10.30 (against). Haemorrhage saved him. When advised not to speak by doctors in the sanatorium, he left glass sentences all over the floor. Felice, says one of them, had too much nakedness left in her.

Anne Carson
Short Talks

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter. Some of the links to PDFs disappear quickly so download them promptly.

Bridget Riley in her Studio, 1960's

Bridget Riley in her Studio, 1960’s

Dodie Bellamy’s passionate, polemical Barf Manifesto is one of the most intriguing texts I’ve read this year. Spew Forth [PDF] is a good taster of her aesthetic.

Seamus Heaney’s The Art of Poetry interview. “I mean, who wouldn’t like to write Mozartian poetry?”

“Man is free; but he finds his law in his very freedom.” Any long time reader of this blog knows I’m very interested in the work, thought and person of Simone de Beauvoir. The Ethics of Ambiguity was, in part, her response to Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.

Franz Kafka’s Complete Short Stories [PDF]: if I were allowed to keep only a single book it would be this one. I could read these stories alone for the rest of my life and never tire of them.

Franz Kafka’s The Trial [PDF]: a more modern translation of The Trial.

David Winter’s superb review of Christine Schutt’s Prosperous Friends, “proves Schutt to be of the finest stylists alive”.

“What can we say we really understand about our personal experience with colour?” Bridget Riley’s Introduction to Colour: Art and Science [PDF] addresses colour in art.

Pierre Bourdieu’s The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. [PDF]

JG Ballard’s The Complete Short Stories [PDF]: though I agree with Germaine Greer’s comment that Ballard is “a great writer who hasn’t written a great novel,” I enjoy reading his short stories and longer pieces. It is his autobiographical books that get closest to greatness.

Ray Brassier’s dense but tantalising Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction [PDF].

Michel Houellebecq’s The Art of Fiction interview. “Iggy Pop wrote some songs based on my novel The Possibility of an Island.”

Luce Irigaray’s brilliant This Sex Which is Not One [PDF], in which she argues that our society is predicated on the exchange of women.

Pierre Bourdieu’s essay on The Forms of Capital [PDF] outlines the distinctions between economic, social and cultural capital.

Mahmoud Darwish’s breathtakingly beautiful poem Tuesday And The Weather Is Clear [PDF].

The Shaping of the Self

Yesterday I alluded to Foucault’s Self Writing [PDF: Technologies of the Self/Self Writing], one of a series of studies on “the arts of oneself” that draws heavily on Greco-Roman thought, particularly that of Seneca.

Woodcut illustration of the suicide of Seneca and the attempted suicide of his wife Pompeia Paulina

Woodcut illustration of the suicide of Seneca and the attempted suicide of his wife Pompeia Paulina

The illustration above depicts Seneca’s suicide (his wife was spared by Nero) who chose the traditional Roman suicide of cutting multiple veins to bleed to death. For some reason the illustration brings to mind the procedure enacted in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. In Kafka’s story a device is constructed that very slowly, minutely inscribes a condemned man’s sentence on his flesh. It is Kafka’s most chilling and unforgettable short story. Judith Butler, in an early essay, draws an analogy between Kafka’s device and Foucault’s concept that the body is figured as a blank page available for inscription, awaiting the “imprint” of history and knowledge.

In Self Writing Foucault quotes Seneca’s phrase, “It is necessary to read, but also to write” as an exercise in self-inscription, what Plutarch termed ethopoietic, a procedure for transforming truth into essence. My own framework is not dissimilar to that described by Foucault, whereby I read, make notes reflecting on what I’ve read, spend time contemplating my notes, often reread, and converse about reading with others. This desire for conversation about literature is what drew me to blogging. As Foucault describes, “to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self”.

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

The term ‘mansplaining’ is genius and deserves to be listed in the OED. This is where I first came across the term.

Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, Essay on Abjection.

Martha Nussbaum – How to write about poverty.

The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primitive Society by Joan Bamberger.

Politics and the English Language an essay by George Orwell.

Charles Bukowski’s so you want to be a writer.

The David Lynch mixtape.

Franz Kafka: The Meaning of Life is that it Stops.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the surprising physical reality of this world as he sees it.

The ideal way to read Marx’s Kapital is with David Harvey.

One of my favourite Desert Island Discs with writer Al Alvarez (friend of Plath and Hughes).

On Fear – a wonderful essay by Mary Ruefle (the distinction between emotion and feeling is perfect)

Julia Kristeva’s essay – A Freudian Approach: The Pre-religious Need To Believe.

Adam Kirsch on The New World of William Carlos Williams.

Italo Calvino’s 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

Tomas Sedlacek interview: “Consumption works like a drug. Enough is always just beyond the horizon”.

Michael Stein’s review of On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe by Andrzej Stasiuk.

Judith Butler talks about how to read Kafka.

A Shadow Remains explores [Phillip] Toledano’s personal history as he considers the impact that love and loss has had on his life, and the life of his family.”

ŽiŽek’s essay on Kieślowskis’ fascinating ‘The Double Life of Véronique’.

Brief but fascinating thoughts about the implications of Ray Brassier’s tough Nihil Unbound.

Interview with JG Ballard (in his Shepperton home)[in English after introduction].

Eleanor Wachtel’s 1995 conversation with Harold Bloom about The Western Canon.

“On visits to Cambridge University late in life, Jorge Luis Borges offered revealing last thoughts about his reading and writing.”

Bunker archaeology.

Subversive and brilliant adbusts. “Advertising makes people … detest their appearance”.

Foucault and social media: I tweet, therefore I become.

On literature and evil, the only recorded TV interview with Georges Bataille.

Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy – full text [PDF] of Neoliberalism and its crisis.

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

New Inquiry review of Anne Carson’s Antigonick.

Yale Books: Extract from Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life,

Lens Culture: Interrogations: terrifying real-life photographs from Ukraine.

In lieu of a field guide post: Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari – “The novel suggests that both the purity of art and the ability to master one’s self can be derived from and conditioned by nature.”

Flowerville post: solstad/monikova: same but different.

Lauren Elkin essay: (The Quarterly Conversation): The Adversary: On Susan Sontag’s Journals (1964-1980). [Lauren Elkin’s site]

Derek Jarman’s film, Jubilee (1978 / Full)

David Winters’ review of Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming’s Dead Man Working.

One of the richest resources I’ve found. I’d heard rumours that these existed but they were surprisingly hard to track down. Download PDFs of out-of-print Loeb Greek and Roman classics.

Notes Towards a Theory of the Literary Magazine: Part One, The Textual Condition.

Lebanese artist, Zena Assi’s work brought to life in animation.

Prabuddha Dasgupta is a favourite photographer, whose work I got to know, I think, through Geoff Dyer. “An ongoing journal of memory and experience, based on the everyday… family, friendships, places known, spaces occupied, journeys remembered…revolving around the core of a pivotal love affair.”

Geoff Dyer writes about his favourite Hitchcock film: The Birds.