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.

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”.

Experimenting with Nonhuman Forms

I’ve reread some of Kafka’s short stories, this morning: A Report to an Academy. (It’d be misleading to describe it as one of my favourites, such ranking is impossible in the face of the brilliance of Kafka’s short stories.) A Report to an Academy is a tale of metamorphosis, but unlike the story of that name, this time it is self-willed; an ape learns to perform human in pursuit of autonomy. I’ve always read the story as an allegorical discourse on fascism or late capitalism.

This morning I’ve day-dreamed more about its tale of radical transfiguration. Below, for Sunday fun, is a minor thought experiment, a list of nonhuman forms I’d like to become, temporarily for a moment or a thousand years, to experience otherness.

Rub' al Khali (2013)

Rub’ al Khali (2013)

  1. A grain of sand, in a boundless, ‘unshorn field’ of desert.
  2. An igneous rock, child of cooling lava.
  3. A starling (to fly in a dazzling cloud as part of a murmuration).
  4. An almond tree in full ‘shadow blossom’.
  5. A gold, Sicilian, venomous snake.
  6. A bright star (with eternal lids apart).
  7. A crashing, long and loud whirlwind.
  8. Sea-cold coral, shining with salt sweat.

A little indulgent I know. Care to take a turn?

Time’s Passing

It was an interview with Philip Larkin that commandeered my night, not the interview itself which is mostly unremarkable, nor the appeal of Larkin, which in my case is negligible. It was his reply to a trite question about his daily routine, to which he replied:

My life is as simple as I can make it. Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings. I almost never go out. I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time: some people by doing a lot, being in California one year and Japan the next; or there’s my way—making every day and every year exactly the same. Probably neither works.

As you might imagine, the passing of time is a central preoccupation, hence the naming of this blog. Though it has been many years since I last read Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the book exerted a powerful influence on my perspective. Csíkszentmihályi theorizes that in a state of complete absorption temporal concerns evaporate. In this ideal ‘flow’ state ego, disappears and time ceases to pass.

Probably due to commercial inducements, Csíkszentmihályi’s work has fallen down the ‘positive psychology’ rabbit hole, but there are elements of Flow that are profoundly intelligent. It isn’t easy to generate complete absorption, and if you try too hard failure is certain, but, for me, listening to Schumann’s late work or to Arvo Pärt, reading Kafka, Coetzee or Aristotle can transport me to that place where I forget myself and the passing of time.

Stemming the passing of time is also a way (the only way?) of recapturing a sense of the enchantment that is supposedly absent in our alienated modern world. I’ll end this rambling with a passage from Philip Fisher’s lucid Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences:

The moment of pure presence within wonder lies in the object’s difference and uniqueness being so striking to the mind that it does not remind us of anything and we find ourselves delaying in its presence for a time in which the mind does not move on by association to something else.

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.

Kathy Acker Interviews William Burroughs.

“What is most true is poetic.” Leora Skolkin-Smith post about Hélène Cixous’ So Close.

Helene Cixous’ Stigmata – With Jacques Derrida introduction.

Senses of Cinema profile of Robert Bresson’s work.

“The meditative essay hinges on stillness ..” Thoughts on the Meditative Essay by Robert Vivian.

British Sounds (aka See You at Mao) by Jean-Luc Godard.

Writing the Biography of a Genius: An extract from Joseph Brodsky, A Literary Life by Lev Loseff.

Return of the Vanishing Spectacular Landscape – Fatigues, 2012, by British artist Tacita Dean.

Iain Sinclair review of Londoners by Craig Taylor.

The Natural Way of Things. A short story by Peter Stamm.

Vladimir Nabokov’s brilliant lecture on The Metamorphosis.

Wonderful interview with Kate Zambreno.

Carlos Atane’s controversial film adaptation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Strangely compelling photographic journeys of Franz Kafka.

Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor animation with English subtitles.

JM Coetzee: Life and Times of Michael K

Simon Norfolk

Simon Norfolk

This Coetzee novel, though far from a favourite, stimulates the same thought inspired by reading Beckett and Dante: perhaps I should read only this, only Coetzee, or only Beckett. To read one writer’s oeuvre so deeply, sentence by sentence, that it becomes engrained.

Though I relished most of Life and Times of Michael K, I was impervious to the second part, narrated by a medical officer that attempts to restore Michael K to health. In this section, though the allusion is subtle, Coetzee drifts into a spiritual journey allegory, adopting a messiah/simpleton analogy.

Michaels, forgive me for the way I treated you, I did not appreciate who you were till the last days. Forgive me too for following you like this. I promise not to be a burden.

It is impossible to ignore the symmetry  between Michael K and Kafka’s Josef K. Coetzee’s fiction often reveals Kafka’s presence in the shadows, but perhaps more overtly in Life and Times of Michael K with its idiot savant motif.

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.

JM Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians

To read Coetzee’s fiction is to undertake a journey, a passage, with the consequent necessity of recuperation when the passage is completed. Waiting for the Barbarians offers a passage to an undesignated time and place, a frontier town, one of many established to secure a heartland from barbarians. The mise-en-scène offers clues to both place and period (lances, fusils, desert and marshland) but these are unimportant. This is a novel that describes a number of binary oppositions, which turn out not to be genuine choices.

Sharing, at the beginning at least, a mood of detachment similar in texture to Kafka’s In The Penal Colony, the central protagonist is unnamed, referred to simply as The Magistrate. Just three of the novel’s many characters are named: the menacing Colonel Joll from the Third Bureau ( I am intrigued that ‘jol’ is South African slang meaning to have fun, to party, which Coetzee was probably aware of in choosing this surname), his vicious sidekick Mandel, and, singly, Mai, a mother that The Magistrate turns to, briefly, for intercourse. By naming just the opposite poles of violence and intimacy Coetzee foregrounds this as a didactic fable with its roots in Kafka.

It is of course essential to read Waiting for the Barbarians as a critique of two distinct forms of colonialism, the benign but amoral form identified with the Magistrate, the last just man, and the unreserved despotism of the Third Bureau and Empire as represented by Joll. Finally, as in Cavafy’s poem, the barbarians never come, thus leaving the reader to ask if they existed, and whether the truly barbaric were within the fortress all along. A Baudrillardian reading through a filter of American barbarism in the Middle East would be rewarding but perhaps for another time.

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:

From Kafka to Sebald – essays on narrative form in modernist fiction:

Maurice Blanchot and Fragmentary Writing by Leslie Hill – Preview:

Judith Butler – On Never Having Learned How to Live:

“Deleuze always insists on grasping the virtual , as it were ‘behind’ the actual.”

The HTMLGiant Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze:

Frederic Jameson on Realism and Utopia in The Wire:

Fascinating piece on memory by Jenny Diski:

Glenn Gould Explains the Genius of Johann Sebastian Bach:

Roberto Calasso interviewed by Lila Azam Zanganeh:

“Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.”

Remarkable colour photos from inside Nazi-occupied Poland, 1939-1940:

God’s Angry Man — Werner Herzog (Full Documentary):

Aldous Huxley’s Most Beautiful, LSD-Assisted Death: A Letter from His Widow:

The story behind Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover: