Idées Fixes of the Week

John Kay: Ralph Rylance (1813)

The British Library has today published a new edition of the 1815 Epicure’s Almanack, the first ever ‘good food guide’ to London. Listing some 650 eating houses, taverns, coffee houses, and inns, the original Almanack was the work of Ralph Rylance, an aspiring poet and dramatist. This new edition, edited by Janet Ing Freeman, presents his original text together with commentary on many of the establishments and on the wider subject of eating and drinking in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Fewer than 30 copies of the original book are recorded in libraries today. It was never continued nor reprinted, and lack of public enthusiasm for the guide meant that several hundred unsold copies were destroyed two years after publication. Nonetheless, scholars continue to refer to it for descriptions such as that of London’s first Indian restaurant, the Hindostanee Coffee House in Marylebone, where all the dishes were ‘dressed with curry-powder and the best spices of Arabia’, and a room was set apart for ‘smoking from hookahs with oriental herbs’.

Rylance reviewed the eateries and their menus single-handedly and on foot. His book provides an excellent contemporary view of an important aspect of Regency London life, and gives a glimpse of a bygone city, in which the oysterman at the Cock Tavern in Fleet Street busily opens shells ‘with the dexterity of a squirrel’ and more elegant eating houses display their wares in the window, including the ‘fine, lively, amiable turtle’ shortly to appear on the menu.


The Munch exhibition is exemplary, breathtaking.


Not that I’m saying anything
Richard Price

Not that I’m saying anything
at least, I’m more speaking just to be hearing, answering
to ask if reply-to-reply just might (not knowing)
perpetuate this pulse-on-pulse to-ing and fro-ing,
as if here, in your here-and-now, is best brimmingness,
breathless, beyond fondness, found.

Hard dream, extreme astound!
Death the sky, death the ground. Yet,
we’re coming around.
We’ve been laughed alive,
paired-up – for the dive – bound –
to the vast unbound.

Let’s swim – in liquid sound, luxuriate
in while, in whim in … flirt and secret flout,
It’s not too late. Let doubts leave. For trying out loud
lets improvise our intimate lives, perfect … an intricate duet.
Let’s retrieve, in the whelm, in the depth,
kindness of touch – and, say, say this much:
we’ll plan to play, to enjoy, stronger than belief, full sweet
‘nothing’ – if such pleasure (a kiss the gentlest of decrees)
elicits your delicate, illicit, please.


Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello are old friends and cello is the instrument closest to my heart. Pablo Casals is long my preferred cellist but Mischa Maisky could easily challenge that preference.


I’m so restless, unable to settle on a book, switching between Deleuze and Miéville, old copies of the TLS, the latest White Review and that rathole, Twitter.

Idées Fixes of the Week

Edward Burtynsky: Dryland Farming #7,
Monegros County, Aragon, Spain (2010)

Edward Burtynsky
Burtynsky: OIL – Photographers’ Gallery: 19 May – 1 July 2012


Slimescapes | World War One Centenary
Santanu Das

The acute memory of visceral trauma exceeds the material, literal referent – liquid, porridge, quicksand – and can, like the octopus simile in the opening letter, only resort to the imaginative. The ritual repetition of the word bears witness not only to the viscosity of the trench mud but to the terrors of experiencing a malign world through the skin.


Edvard Munch
Peter Watkin’s 1974 biopic

Famously described by the late Ingmar Bergman as “a work of genius”, Peter Watkins’ multi-faceted masterwork is more than just a biopic of the iconic Norwegian Expressionist painter, it is one of the best films ever made about the artistic process. Focusing initially on Munch’s formative years in late 19th century Kristiania (now Oslo), Watkins uses his trademark style to create a vivid picture of the emotional, political, and social upheavals that would have such an effect on his art.


Hermes of the Ways
By H. D.


The hard sand breaks,
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.

Far off over the leagues of it,
The wind,
Playing on the wide shore,
Piles little ridges,
And the great waves
Break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
Of the sea,
I know him
Of the triple path-ways,
Who awaiteth.

Facing three ways,
Welcoming wayfarers,
He whom the sea-orchard
Shelters from the west,
From the east
Weathers sea-wind;
Fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
Over the dunes,
And the coarse, salt-crusted grass

It whips round my ankles!


Small is
This white stream,
Flowing below ground
From the poplar-shaded hill,
But the water is sweet.

Apples on the small trees
Are hard,
Too small,
Too late ripened
By a desperate sun
That struggles through sea-mist.

The boughs of the trees
Are twisted
By many bafflings;
Twisted are
The small-leafed boughs.
But the shadow of them
Is not the shadow of the mast head
Nor of the torn sails.

Hermes, Hermes,
The great sea foamed,
Gnashed its teeth about me;
But you have waited,
Where sea-grass tangles with

Idées Fixes of the Week

Zena Assi: from the Beirut series

I’ve wallowed in Zena Assi’s Cities series, meticulously detailed paintings of Beirut. Look close enough and you can see laundry hanging between buildings.


Influenced by Geoff Dyer’s review I read Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman. The narrative is well constructed and compelling. Tokyo comes alive, as does each character. I read the book in two sittings, flagging only a little toward the end. Though I share Dyer’s admiration for Parry’s writing I am torn by the nature of the genre.

It is the first (and last) time I dip into the ‘true crime’ genre. The act of analysing and building narrative from the actions and emotions of the Blackman family and their friends, not characters but people in England, living not too far from where I live, feels exploitative. Is that just me being overly squeamish? How do you accurately interpret somebody’s emotions, and consequent actions, when they are living through such a horrendous experience? With the impossibility of accessing another person’s ‘inner’ feelings, any such interpretation is just what David Ellis termed ‘affable pretence’.



Idées Fixes of the Week

Dorothea Tanning: Birthday (1942)

Dorothea Tanner (1910-2012)


Mahmoud Darwish
Memory for Forgetfulness
August, Beirut, 1982

Gently place one spoonful of the ground coffee, electrified with the aroma of cardamom, on the rippling surface of the hot water, then stir slowly, first clockwise, then up and down. Add the second spoonful and stir up and down, then counterclockwise. Now add the third. Between spoonfuls, take the pot away from the fire and bring it back. For the final touch, dip the spoon in the melting powder, fill and raise it a little over the pot, then let it drop back. Repeat this several times until the water boils again and a small mass of the blog coffee remains on the surface, rippling and ready to sink. Don’t let it sink. Turn off the heat, and pay no heed to the rockets. Take the coffee to the narrow corridor and pour it lovingly and with a sure and into a little white cup; dark-colored cups spoil the freedom of the coffee. Observe the paths of steam and the tent of rising aroma. Now light your first cigarette, made for this cup of coffee, the cigarette with the flavour of existence itself, unequaled by the tastes of any other except that which follows love, as the woman smokes away the last sweat and the fading voice.

Memory of Forgetfulness (translated by Ibrahim Muhawi) is extraordinary, a staggeringly powerful  memoir of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. To leave the description there would be reductive; Darwish interrogates the nature of exile and discourses widely, from the importance of coffee, to the relationship between memory and history. I’ve begun my second reading, unable to put the book aside.


William Butler Yeats
A Coat

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But he fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.



[Thomas Bernhard:] An Attempt by Ingeborg Bachmann

I am convinced that the last prose of Thomas Bernhard goes far beyond than that of Beckett and is infinitely superior compared to it [Beckett], because of its compulsion, its inescapability and its hardness. In all those years people asked themselves, how would it look like, the new.


Donald Weber – Interrogation (2011)

Idées Fixes of the Week

JMW Turner: The Blue Rigi: Lake of Lucerne – Sunrise


Edmund Husserl
Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology

First, anyone who seriously intends to become a philosopher
must “once in his life” withdraw into himself and attempt,
within himself, to overthrow and build anew all the sciences
that, up to then, he has been accepting. Philosophy — wisdom
(sagesse) — is the philosophized quite personal affair. It must
arise as his wisdom, as his self-acquired knowledge tending
toward universality, a knowledge for which he can answer from
the beginning, and at each step, by virtue of his own absolute
insights. If I have decided to live with this as my aim — the
decision that alone can start me on the course of a philosophical
development — I have thereby chosen to begin in absolute
poverty, with an absolute lack of knowledge. Beginning thus,
obviously one of the first things I ought to do is reflect on how
I might find a method for going on, a method that promises to
lead to genuine knowing. Accordingly the Cartesian Meditations
are not intended to be a merely private concern of the philoso-
pher Descartes, to say nothing of their being merely an im-
pressive literary form in which to present the foundations of his
philosophy. Rather they draw the prototype for any beginning
philosopher’s necessary meditations, the meditations out of
which alone a philosophy can grow originally.


From Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals Vol. 1.

Day cold a warm shelter in the hollies, capriciously
bearing berries. Query : Are the male and female
flowers on separate trees ?

23rd. Bright sunshine, went out at 3 o’clock. The
sea perfectly calm blue, streaked with deeper colour by
the clouds, and tongues or points of sand ; on our
return of a gloomy red. The sun gone down. The
crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus. The sound of the
sea distinctly heard on the tops of the hills, which we
could never hear in summer. We attribute this partly
to the bareness of the trees, but chiefly to the absence of
the singing of birds, the hum of insects, that noiseless
noise which lives in the summer air. 1 The villages
marked out by beautiful beds of smoke. The turf fading
into the mountain road. The scarlet flowers of the moss.

24th. Walked between half-past three and half-past
five. The evening cold and clear. The sea of a sober
grey, streaked by the deeper grey clouds. The half dead
sound of the near sheep-bell, in the hollow of the sloping
coombe, exquisitely soothing.

25th. Went to Poole’s after tea. The sky spread
over with one continuous cloud, whitened by the light of
the moon, which, though her dim shape was seen, did
not throw forth so strong a light as to chequer the earth
with shadows. At once the clouds seemed to cleave
asunder, and left her in the centre of a black-blue vault.
She sailed along, followed by multitudes of stars, small,
and bright, and sharp. Their brightness seemed con-
centrated, (half-moon).

26th. Walked upon the hill-tops ; followed the sheep
tracks till we overlooked the larger coombe. Sat in the
sunshine. The distant sheep-bells, the sound of the

1 Compare Keats, Miscellaneous Poems

There crept

A little noiseless noise amongst the leaves
Born of the very sigh that silence heaves. ED.

And Coleridge, The AEolian Harp

The stilly murmur of the distant sea

Tells us of silence. ED.


Rare footage of Franco-Swiss pianist Alfred Cortot.


Joseph Brodsky
Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen, enemy, mama’s boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn’t love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of the pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it’s gentler than what we’ve been told or have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don’t reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won’t resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks.


Idées Fixes of the Week

Josef Koudelka (b. January 10, 1938 in Boskovice, Czechoslovakia)


Repetition enables us to form habits and to accept the world as familiar
Czeslaw Milosz

Rhythm is at the core of human life. It is, first of all, the rhythm of the organism, ruled by the heartbeat and circulation of blood. As we live in a pulsating, vibrating world, we respond to it and in turn are bound to its rhythm. Without giving much thought to our dependence on the systoles and distoles of flowing time we move through sunrises and sunsets, through the sequences of four seasons. Repetition enables us to form habits and to accept the world as familiar Perhaps the need of a routine is deeply rooted in the very structure of our bodies.


The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of The Uncanny
Dylan Trigg
Side Effects blog

Throughout the book, a central theme-and one I shall return to-concerns how our bodily identity is shape through being touched by the past. What does this complex theme signify? The phrase “touched by the past” signifies more than being merely affected or in casual contact with the past. What does this complex theme signify? The phrase “touched by the past” brings us into a region of memory and temporality that elicits the moment personal identity is marked in either an affirmative or disruptive manner by the experience of memory itself. Coupled with this exposure to the formation of identity, the inclusion of “touch” reinforces the bind between temporality and materiality. Being “touched by the past,” sets in place the centrality of place itself, implying a kinaesthetic and sensual recollection of the past. The result of this bind between identity and materiality is a challenge to the idea that memory and identity are solely temporal phenomena.


Czeslaw Milosz

Burning, he walks in the stream of flickering letters, clarinets,
machines throbbing quicker than the heart, lopped-off heads, silk
canvases, and he stops under the sky

and raises toward it his joined clenched fists.

Believers fall on their bellies, they suppose it is a monstrance that

but those are knuckles, sharp knuckles shine that way, my friends.

He cuts the glowing, yellow buildings in two, breaks the walls into
motley halves;
pensive, he looks at the honey seeping from those huge honeycombs:
throbs of pianos, children’s cries, the thud of a head banging against
the floor.
This is the only landscape able to make him feel.

He wonders at his brother’s skull shaped like an egg,
every day he shoves back his black hair from his brow,
then one day he plants a big load of dynamite
and is surprised that afterward everything spouts up in the explosion.
Agape, he observes the clouds and what is hanging in them:
globes, penal codes, dead cats floating on their backs, locomotives.
They turn in the skeins of white clouds like trash in a puddle.
While below on the earth a banner, the color of a romantic rose,
and a long row of military trains crawls on the weed-covered tracks.



Mary Ruefle
Perfect Reader

I spend all day in my office, reading a poem
by Stevens, pretending I wrote it myself,
which is what happens when someone is lonely
and decides to go shopping and meets another customer
and they buy the same thing. But I come to my senses,
and decide when Stevens wrote the poem he was thinking
of me, the way all my old lovers think of me
whenever they lift their kids or carry the trash,
and standing outside the store I think of them:
I throw my arms around a tree, I kiss the pink
and peeling bark, its dead skin, and the papery
feel of its fucked-up beauty arouses me, lends my life
a certain gait, like the stout man walking to work
who sees a peony in his neighbor’s yard and thinks ah,
there is a subject of white interpolation, and then
the petals fall apart for a long time, as long as it takes
summer to turn to snow, and I go home at the end and watch
the news about the homeless couple who met in the park,
and then the weather, to see how they will feel tomorrow.


Art and the Aesthete

Ethel Spowers (1890-1947)
‘Wet Afternoon’ (1929)