Lately …

Lately I’ve listened to a lot of music, intensely, for two to three hours a day. My musical taste is shaped by the punk era, though by the time I discovered punk, it was all over. I’m a child of the post-punk period. Those are my formative musical years – about the only time I wish I was ten, even five years older is when I dream of being present for the early years of the Sex Pistols and the Bromley contingent. But it is post-punk that I still turn to: bands like Joy Division, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Killing Joke, Echo and the Bunnymen, it has survived a lot better than most of the earlier punk stuff, which sounds crusty.

I’ve also been playing a fair amount of classical music, Schubert, Sibelius, Pärt, Ligeti and, of course, Beethoven whose late music is rough, abstract, beautiful and I’m kidnapping him as protopunk. The whole 60s-70s musical thing bores me to tears, with the exception of 70s Bowie (and from time to time, Dylan). I’m glad that I’m far too young to not remember the sixties. Jazz, which mostly I don’t get and what I do like is inextricably caught up with context, mostly from reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful and The Colour of Memory, hence Mingus, Monk, Chet Baker, but dominated by Miles Davis, mostly because he so fucking cool.

Lately I’ve been to the cinema at least once a week, mainstream films like American Hustle (intelligently written, captivating), Wolf of Wall Street (usual bloated Scorcese male-ego study), and Gravity (silly but technologically fascinating). Despite twice lapping up all fifteen hours of Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, my film tastes feel uncultured. I’ll watch Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer and Yasujirō Ozu films with great pleasure, but also with the sense that I am missing a lot of depth and meaning. Watching Room 237 (after reading Molly Laich’s top 2013 films list) showed me depths to my favourite horror film The Shining that I hadn’t even considered after watching it at least a dozen times.

Lately, surprise, surprise, I’ve also been reading a lot. Grace Dane Mazur’s Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination is one of the most intelligent, sensitive readings of art and literature that I’ve read, ever. Both Carole Maso books were worthwhile but I preferred Defiance to Ava. Defiance succeeded in making a female psychopath multi-layered and sympathetic. It is also deeply upsetting. There were many beautiful moments in Ava but for me its fragmentary form never quite cohered into a sustained narrative, and I’m ambivalent about the literary romanticising of cancer and death. I had a fascinating debate on Twitter with @DeathZen about Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment. In a moment of afterglow I compared it to Greek tragedy, a bit silly, but its portrayal of mental collapse and fury is reminiscent of the aftermath of Jason’s desertion of Medea. Ferrante is no Euripides but she can write with great potency, and to borrow a phrase from James Woods, is able to rip ‘the skin off the habitual’. I’m reading Alix Cléo Roubaud’s Alix’s Journal, which is quietly devastating, immensely personal, and also the best book I’ve read so far this year.

8 thoughts on “Lately …

  1. Just a thought: If you haven’t already, you might be interested in reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and/or watching Robert Wise’s adaptation of the book, “The Haunting” (1963), as Kubrick’s film seems to deviate from the premises of King’s novel towards a vision of horror offered by Jackson – a more psychological than supernatural one (though I might be wrong, I haven’t read King’s book, which itself supposedly heavily relies on SJ).

    Also, now I’ll have to add Alix’s journal to my wishlist, right next to Grace Dane Mazur 🙂 They both sound wonderful, and thinking that, even though I know of their husbands, I’d probably never heard of their own writings, makes me feel we need more projects like #readwomen2014.


    • Thank you, Milica, for your comments.

      In Room 237, the main ways in which the film deviates from King’s book are discussed, i.e. the whole maze scene for instance. I’ll look up the Jackson and Wise references. Thanks again.

      I’m setting out to read Jacques Roubaud, what have you read of his? Grace Dane Mazur’s (more commonly known as Gretchen) husband is a mathematician I think: what have you read of his?


      • Oh, I didn’t realize that “Room 237” is a documentary. I must see it then. Thanks.

        While Wise’s film is good, even pretty I’d say, and I loved it when I first saw it as a child, I didn’t find it satisfying after reading Jackson, so it might be a good idea to watch it before you’ve read the book. Or not (spoilers? I’m not sure anything could spoil that book for me though). I don’t know.

        Unfortunately, I never got to read anything by Roubaud, partly because I don’t/didn’t see that much sense in reading Oulipo authors in translation (well, at least when it comes to forms like Roubaud’s “mathematical” poetry, which I was interested in at the time; I imagine it loses a lot of its quality that way, but I might be wrong, and often I am), and I can’t read them in French (tried Queneau once, failed miserably). I might reconsider when I’ve read Alix’s diary.

        As for Mazur – I only read a couple of articles he wrote, in the field of number theory, as a clarification of something about the Fermat’s last theorem… I don’t want to bore you with that stuff 🙂 But if you’re curious, I can look them up. I remember them being fairly accessible to non-mathematicians like me. Would you say he influenced Gretchen’s work in any way? (Obviously, I’m kind of obsessed with math and numbers, and always look for mathematical structures in literature, if there is any reason to believe that there might be some in there :))


        • Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely watch the film first.

          My plan with Roubaud is to read The Great Fire of London. Alix’s death was so influential on its completion that I thought it better to read her journal first. I also have Mathematique, but should probably read The Loop in between the two, if I get on well with the first. Roubaud does do readings of his poetry in English, but, in principle, I agree with you about reading Oulipo poetry in translation.

          Without knowing Mazur’s work I don’t really know what influence he brought to Gretchen’s Hinges book, nothing that stands out.


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