We Are Singing

  1. Judith Butler in Giving an Account of Oneself writes, “[W]e must recognise that ethics requires us to risk ourselves precisely at moments of unknowingness, when what forms us diverges from what lies before us, when our willingness to become undone in relation to others constitutes our chance of becoming human. To be undone by another is a primary necessity, an anguish, to be sure, but also a chance–to be addressed, claimed, bound to what is not me, but also to be moved, to be prompted to act, to address myself elsewhere, and so to vacate the self-sufficient “I” as a kind of possession. If we speak and try to give an account from this place, we will not be irresponsible, or, if we are, we will surely be forgiven.”
  2. Giorgio Agamben writes in The Coming Community: “This fascination of not uttering something absolutely.”
  3. What has always fascinated me about the Sirens, whether written of by Euripides, Homer, Ovid or Hesiod, is that no one writes about the Sirens’ song. Žižek, in Cogito and the Unconscious reveals Tzvetan Todorov’s thesis, that the Sirens said to Odysseus just one thing: We are singing. Blanchot wrote, “Yes, they really sang, but not in a very satisfactory way. Their song merely suggested the direction from which the perfect song might come.”
  4. In Isak Dinesen’s The Dreamers a young soprano by the name of Pellegrina Leoni loses her singing voice after an accident happens whilst she is singing Donna Anna’s beautiful aria from Don Giovanni. As the greatest soprano of her day, without  her enchanting voice,Pellegrinaisthoughtto be dead, giving her the freedom to travel the world under an assumed identity, living many intense adventures. No muteness is as tragic as a Sirens’ silence.

    Holly Hunter in The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

    Holly Hunter in The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

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.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

The Signifying Corpse: Re-Reading Kristeva on Marguerite Duras by Karen Piper [PDF]: “Moderato cantabile, far from the sweet and melodious story the title suggests, is centred around the sound of a scream.”

A Dictionary of Borges [PDF] by Evelyn Fishburn and Psiche Hughes (Forewords by Mario Vargas Llosa and Anthony Burgess).

One of my favourite of JG Ballard’s short stories: The Concentration City [PDF].

Jonathan McCalmont’s perceptive analysis of the ambiguities of the brilliant film Fish Tank.

Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex [PDF] by Judith Butler. “In fact, we can see in The Second Sex an effort to radicalize the Sartrian program to establish an embodied notion of freedom.”

A Writer from Chicago [PDF] by Saul Bellow. “Neither in brash, and now demoralised, Chicago nor in New York, the capital of victorious mass culture (American culture is the culture of the TV networks), will any writer try to live like an artist. If he is a person of any degree of seriousness, why would he want to?”

James Joyce’s sublime A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [PDF-Full].

Complete Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in PDF – 3 books. This is Longfellow’s translation.

The Library of Babel [PDF] by Jorge Luis Borges.

A wonderful Anne Carson essay, Contempts [PDF] .

Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die [PDF] by Margot Demopoulos.

Gabriel Josipovici’s brilliant Kafka essay: Why we don’t understand Kafka.

James Joyce’s essential Ulysses [PDF-Full].

Two by Friedrich Nietzsche: my favourite Ecce Homo (How One Becomes What One Is) and The Antichrist (A Curse on Christianity) [PDF]. A new translation by Thomas Wayne.

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. Some of the links to PDFs disappear quickly so download them promptly.

'The Reader' - G. Richter

‘The Reader’ – G. Richter

Dr. B or : How I learned to stop worrying and love cinema post: The Gaze and its psychoanalytical implications in Richter, Graham and Beckett’s art.

Faust Series Opus 9 post: 13 Tips for a Writing Friend (After Benjamin, Baudelaire etc.)

Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender (2004) [Full- PDF] -”recent reflections on gender and sexuality, focusing on new kinship, psychoanalysis and the incest taboo, transgender, intersex, diagnostic categories, social violence, and the tasks of social transformation.”

This is treasure for me, discovering a trove of Guy Debord’s letters. “Although I have read a lot, I have drunk even more.”

Bookslut reviews Viktor Shklovsky’s A Hunt for Optimism:

It lacks so much that readers generally gravitate to that even Shklovsky’s clinical prose can seem like an obstruction. But those that can tolerate the writer’s embracing of polyphony and multiplicity will undoubtedly see that there is a very serious mind at work.

These three interpretations of Charles Bukowski’s Melancholy are intriguing. My preference is for the first performance.

Salon’s review of James Wood’s The Fun Stuff. Enjoyed the review though I’ve no urge, presently, to buy the book despite enjoying much of Wood’s writing.

Full Stop’s review of Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women, which I expect to read some day:

This is the brilliance of Suzanne Scanlon’s debut: by casting Lizzie as a self-aware cipher in conflict with the critical reader, Scanlon refuses the same act of diagnosis that her novel critiques.

A collection of films inspired by Angela Carter, exploring the gothic, mysterious and magical themes of her work.

Three-part documentary about Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesian writer of the staggeringly good The Buru Quartet.

Green and yellow: the colours of Brazilian Modernism.

Twenty years on, Elaine Showalter’s revised introduction to A Literature of Their Own. [PDF]

Leszek Kolakowski’s The Death of Utopia Revisited (1982).[PDF]

JM Coetzee on the novels of Saul Bellow.

Women on the market by Luce Irigaray (“applies Marx’s analysis of the commodity to the status of women – objects circulated by men to reproduce a male-dominated society.”)

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.

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, film for the modern world: http://bit.ly/PcTXpZ

From Kafka to Sebald – essays on narrative form in modernist fiction: http://t.co/jJTPALWh

Maurice Blanchot and Fragmentary Writing by Leslie Hill – Preview: http://t.co/Qdjli4NO

Judith Butler – On Never Having Learned How to Live: http://bit.ly/VhrwJP

“Deleuze always insists on grasping the virtual , as it were ‘behind’ the actual.” http://bit.ly/Rd93b9

The HTMLGiant Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze: http://bit.ly/PgNudD

Frederic Jameson on Realism and Utopia in The Wire: http://awe.sm/n71Th

Fascinating piece on memory by Jenny Diski: http://awe.sm/o71JJ

Glenn Gould Explains the Genius of Johann Sebastian Bach: http://bit.ly/PEToVK

Roberto Calasso interviewed by Lila Azam Zanganeh: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6168/the-art-of-fiction-no-217-roberto-calasso

“Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444868204578064483923017090.html

Remarkable colour photos from inside Nazi-occupied Poland, 1939-1940: http://t.co/n4R1Tjdy

God’s Angry Man — Werner Herzog (Full Documentary):http://bit.ly/RdqkB5

Aldous Huxley’s Most Beautiful, LSD-Assisted Death: A Letter from His Widow: http://bit.ly/PDZdTc

The story behind Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover: http://thecreatorsproject.com/blog/the-story-behind-joy-divisions-iconic-iunknown-pleasuresi-album-cover

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.

An archival collection of Russian Futurist recordings, 1920-1959. [MP3]

Steven Connor’s essay on sand, The Dust That Measures All Our Time [PDF].

Conversation with Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Another great meditation on writing by Tim Parks: The Mind Outside My Head.

Bertolt Brecht audio archive: interviews, statements, radio plays, testimonies.

Kathy Acker audio archive: readings, poems, interviews, musical collaborations.

Cinephilia and Beyond YouTube channel.

Metamorphose (1999). Documentary about the life of MC Escher.

The complete annotated text of Conrad’s Nostromo.

Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford: The Collaborative Texts.

A pictorial supplement to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

“I like art that seems to want to be destroyed ..” Blake Butler on fiction.

Comprehensive collection of Max Weber’s texts, and secondary literature.

Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser with English subtitles (Complete).

Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975 – a ‘stately preview‘.

Guy Debord’s film The Society of the Spectacle (Complete).

A guided tour through Jean-Luc Godard’s allusive Film Socialisme.

Human Nature: Justice versus Power, Noam Chomsky debates with Michel Foucault [full transcript].

Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (complete).

Rare Chris Marker TV series The Owl’s Legacy on ancient Greece.

Judith Butler – On Never Having Learned How to Live.

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.

British artist Tacita Dean’s giant Turbine Hall installation at London’s Tate Modern, created using 35mm film, is a love letter to a disappearing medium. She explains how she hopes to create something magical and spectacular to carry her message: film is beautiful – let’s keep it.

Jeffrey Eugenides interviews Tacita Dean: “I think that being very open to coincidences, they happen more.”

Sonic Youth live recordings archive (in FLAC).

Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent (1/17) is ESSENTIAL viewing (You already know this, but just in case…).

Simone de Beauvoir’s Paris Review interview. “The paradox of human life is precisely that one tries to be and, in the long run, merely exists.”

Full text of Polyani’s The Great Transformation. Romantic but robust on free market damage to communities.

A Short History of Neoliberalism (And How We Can Fix It), based on David Harvey’s prescient 2005 book.

“I passed this over several times before actually watching. I’m glad I did because it’s quite charming, and if you haven’t seen it, you’ll love it. 12 year old Jeremiah McDonald from 1992 interviews 32 year old Jeremiah McDonald.”

What is tasteful? Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s seminal work on aesthetics and taste. [PDF]

Michael Hardt’s ‘For Love or Money’. [Full lecture]

Judith Butler talks about Walter Benjamin’s notion of the gesture in Franz Kafka’s parables.

Interview with Domenico Losurdo on Liberalism: A Counter-History.

Against Nostalgia: Esther Tusquets and the Remembering of the Gauche Divine.

Selection of Pieter Hugo’s breathtaking photographs, that I discovered in the ‘Hyena Men’ series.

Jane Bennett: Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things | Territorial Masquerades.

Book List

In no particular order, this is a list of my favourite writers/books. Of course, it is incomplete.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Pale Fire and Speak, Memory and literary lectures
Franz Kafka
Geoff Dyer
JG Ballard
Simone de Beauvoir
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
Hélène Cixous
Judith Butler
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
Søren Kierkegaard
Marguerite Duras
JM Coetzee
Robert Walser
Roland Barthes
Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup
Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Pascal Quignard’s The Roving Shadows
John William’s Stoner
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea
AM Homes
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Jay Griffith’s Wild: An Elemental Journey
Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s War and War
Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness
Samuel Beckett
Simon Critchley
Noam Chomsky
Roger Deakin
Carlos Fuentes’s Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
Ruth Reichl’s Endless Feast
Teju Cole’s Open City
Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation
Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? and The Lessons of Modernism
Virginia Woolf’s later novels and diaries
Jospeh Heller’s Something Happened
WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
Don DeLillo’s Underworld
Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Marcel Proust
Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Richard Power’s The Time of our Singing
Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues