Power of the unspoken

Karl Ove Knausgaard:

Paul Celan’s mysterious, cipher-like language has nothing to do with inaccessibility or closedness, quite the contrary, it is about opening up what language normally does not have access to but that we still, somewhere deep inside us, know or recognize, or if we don’t, allows us to discover. Paul Celan’s words cannot be contradicted with words. What they possess cannot be transformed either, the word only exists there, and in each and every single person who absorbs it.

The fact that paintings and, to some extent, photographs were so important for me had something to do with this. They contained no words, no concepts, and when I looked at them what I experienced, what made them so important, was also nonconceptual. There was something stupid in this, an area that was completely devoid of intelligence, which I had difficulty acknowledging or accepting, yet which perhaps was the most important single element of what I wanted to do.


Marjorie Perloff

Why did Bachmann stop writing lyric poems?  In an interview, she remarked: “I have nothing against poems, but you must try to understand that there are moments when suddenly, one has everything against them, against every metaphor, every sound, every rule for putting words together, against the absolutely inspired arrival of words and images.”  What she means here, I think, is that, in the writing of lyric, she couldn’t seem to get around the male and patriarchal voice so powerful in German poetry.  “I had only known,” Bachmann admitted in 1971, “how to tell a story from a masculine position.  But I have often asked myself: why, really?  I have not understood it, not even in the case of the short stories.”  Then, too, Bachmann feared, as did her contemporary Paul Celan, that German lyric too easily falls into the trap of “harmony,” the harmony which, as Celan puts it, “no longer has anything in common with that ‘harmony’ which sounded more or less unchallenged, side by side with the most dreadful.”  The reference here is of course to the Holocaust


Ingeborg Bachmann

Celan’s poem for Ingeborg Bachmann:

In Ägypten

Du sollst zum Aug der Fremden sagen: Sei das Wasser.
Du sollst, die du im Wasser weißt, im Aug der Fremden suchen.
Du sollst sie rufen aus dem Wasser: Ruth! Noëmi! Mirjam!
Du sollst sie schmücken, wenn du bei der Fremden liegst.
Du sollst sie schmücken mit dem Wolkenhaar der Fremden.
Du sollst zu Ruth und Mirjam und Noëmi sagen:
Seht, ich schlaf bei ihr!
Du sollst die Fremde neben dir am schönsten schmücken.
Du sollst sie schmücken mit dem Schmerz um Ruth, um Mirjam und Noëmi.
Du sollst zur Fremden sagen:
Sieh, ich schlief bei diesen!




Families interrogated

What imploded for Alison Bechdel. Francine Prose in the NYRB on Fragments of a Family:

What carries us through the memoir is Bechdel’s wry and painful personal history and the charm of the narrator’s voice, expressed in captions, thought and dialogue balloons, and illustrations, all of which seem to play off—and against—one another to enhance and augment the information we extract from each frame. Often several levels of time happen simultaneously, as the captions, pictures, and dialogue each appear to tell a slightly different version of the story and to look back on it from varying degrees of distance. The voice is not merely clever but intelligent, literary, sympathetic—at once funny, sharp, and kind. The humor ranges from broad to subtle, but we never feel that a joke is being made at a character’s expense. Questioning, reflective, seeking new interpretations and open to new conclusions, the narration attempts to ferret out the truth of what happened and why: of how the Bechdels’ outwardly normal domestic life—secretly rife with angst and yearning, Gothic indeed—stayed intact for as long as it did, and then so rapidly imploded.


The Sunshine of Absolute Neglect

What goes for the Cornell student goes for the art world as a whole. It’s split right down the middle. On the left side is an ascetic world of dour dioramas and evergreen minimalism. It lives in Kunsthalles and white cubes. It is protected from the vagaries of the marketplace by a swaddling blanket of bureaucratic concern and obscurantist prose. It’s a cold place, and it makes demands. Spending too many hours in this art world, submitting oneself to its varieties of deprivation, can make you yearn for the warming embrace of the surrounding culture, guzzling corn syrup and wallowing in amateur porn.


“Everybody bears the marks of their birth.” Stephen Clingman at the launch of his memoir Birthmark:

“It’s the grammar of identity. The fate of someone who lives where they were not born,” Clingman said. It became important for him, especially after having children, to leave behind something that would remain after him, something that spoke of their history. “If I didn’t, what will they know of where they come from?” Clingman referred to his own Lithuanian ancestors, saying that the country of their birth was a mystery to him.

The book takes the form of fragments of memory, the text interspersed with first and third person narratives in past and present tense. Clingman responded to a question by author Jonny Steinberg who joined him in conversation: “The first person narratives were palpable memories. My choices were also partly conceptual. A first person narrative could also be someone speaking in the third person. I was interested in the question, ‘Who are we when we think about the past?’”


The pervasive and unpleasant smell of ripe guavas. Reminding me how once we had to eat them every morning at breakfast  for the Vitamin A content, so healthy for growing children. A smell pungent and distinctive as  juicy ripe mango, unforgettable. Like the first time you happen upon the durian fruit and enter cloacal.


Do We Dream Under  the Same Sky?


Do we dream under the same sky



More that than this

Carol Diehl

I’ll add that to be compelling visually, art must also be compelling conceptually. To succeed, all art must be conceptual, just as it must address formally its reason for being considered visual art. . . . The test is in how well the conceptual and the formal elements are synthesized—to the point that the ultimate experience of the art is about neither, but something else entirely.


Edward St Aubyn

“What was the thread that held together the scattered beads of experience if not the pressure of interpretation?” Patrick Melrose in Some Hope


Mary Ellen Mark dies at 75, elegant, intense, curious, and unstoppable


Mary Ellen Mark

with her back to the world

Agnes Martin painting with her back to the world:

Martin often described a painting from 1964, The Tree, as her first grid. In fact, she had been making them since at least the beginning of the decade, first by scratching lattices into paint and then by pencilling ruled vertical and horizontal lines on to canvases, sometimes embellishing the hatchings with dabs or lines of colour, even sheets of gold leaf. “Well,” she told an interviewer, “when I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then this grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied.”


Wood I, 1963. Watercolor and graphite on paper, 15 x 15 1/2 inches (38.1 x 39.4 cm)


Agnes Martin


Maggie Nelson in interview:

I do sometimes feel exhausted with “personal” writing, whatever that means—I’m starting to tire seriously of the phrase. After putting something of that nature out into the world, I typically swear up and down to myself that the next thing is going to be totally scholarly and esoteric, to the point that no one will want to read or publish it, ever. This feels consoling to me, like a condition of possibility for going on.

What doesn’t make the cut

Looking back on the blogging experiment

Sullivan himself, in explaining his decision to shut down The Dish, acknowledged his own frustrations with blogging. “Although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing,” he wrote, “I yearn for other, older forms.” He wanted to “have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged,” and to “write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me.”


Crafting doubtful copy for the Internet?

It’s a fact that more artists and writers tailor their works with the Internet viewer in mind. There are artists who make trendy abstract paintings in bold, unmodulated colors so nothing is gained or lost when one sees them on Instagram or in the gallery; these paintings are as easy to apprehend online as a color swatch for a sofa, which is ideal for the collector who doesn’t have time to experience the product in person. Similarly, there are more writers who write with transparent compression, knowing that their phrases could be atomized into tweets, chiseled into self-sufficient, endlessly linkable fragments.


Blaming the Internet is not the answer

[How Instagram replaced Kodak, not a simple moral fable]

Far from problems with supply chain issues being entirely caused by technology or the logic of disruptive tech companies, we’re dealing with basic geopolitical issues concerning outsourced labor. Such issues concern work occurring at a massive scale (and not its elimination, which is what Keen concentrates on) and the associated struggles surrounding worker compensation abroad and the domestic desire for inexpensive consumer goods. To get a handle on these matters, nuanced analysis is required that reckons with how governments, corporations, and citizens are dealing with global commerce.




Glancing around

Mário Macilau at the Venice Biennale:

“Flesh transforms into history in the reality offered without falsification” by the photographer Mário Macilau, from Mozambique. The series of nine black and white photographs taken in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, depicts the street children who at a young age are compelled to face life in terms of survival. “It is not a photo-reportage, but rather a poetic work that reverses the connections between now and before, near and far, the visible and what cannot be seen.”

Mário Macilau himself lived on the streets for 16 years.




Vivian Gornick from The End of the Novel of Love

“Romantic love now seems a yearning to dive down into feeling and come up magically changed . . . The idea of love as a means of illumination—in literature as in life—now comes as something of an anticlimax.”


Installation view of joan jonas’s ‘they come to us without a word (fish)’, 2014-2015
the US pavilion at the 56th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia




Dan Chiasson on Terrance Hayes:

Racial trauma is everywhere in Hayes’s work, instantiated by his personal ghosts—an absent father, a mother who worked as a prison guard, an array of family troubles and damage. But he is brilliantly boxed in by his style, which elates in the language it finds to express tragedy. Hayes has called himself “a gray-area, between-area person”; his poems refuse black-and-white emotions. I have no idea how he works, but the poems give the impression of spontaneity; even if he labors over them, the result is a wild ride without an off switch, an unbroken verbal arc propelled by his accelerating actions of mind

This and that

Pierre Joris:

“Where I am in total agreement with the magazine is that all organized religions, & more specifically the three monotheisms, need to be caricatured, attacked, shown up for the ideological con jobs & strangleholds they are. The right to blaspheme is essential for our mental health.


Writer Ronit Matalon on recovering her polylingual mother tongues in the latest issue of World Literature Today:

My mother’s language was like a variation of Arabic, French, and Hebrew. She would start speaking in Arabic, and French and Hebrew would follow naturally in the same sentence. Generally, it is the children who teach their immigrant parents their new country’s language. For me, Hebrew became my natural language. I was ashamed of French and Arabic being spoken in my house. But already in my first novel, I felt I had to bring back all these hidden languages in order to hear a voice.


Angola Cinemas — Uma Ficção da Liberdade:

As imagens do fotógrafo angolano Walter Fernandes, cujo estúdio se situa em Luanda, não se limitam a documentar a história arquitectónica destas salas; elas testemunham também o modo como estes edifícios constituíam um enquadramento elegante que sublinhava uma simples ida ao cinema. Dos cinemas que inicialmente foram concebidos como salas com espaços fechados evoluiu-se, na década de 1960, para espaços ao ar livre com bares e esplanadas – um modo de construção que se adaptava melhor ao clima tropical do país. O que ressalta nesta obra, não são só as imagens de uma arquitectura invulgar, capaz de manifestar o prazer em experimentar novas soluções que animava os seus ambiciosos e visionários criadores, mas também os ensaios e o capítulo dedicado à pesquisa, que lançam uma luz sobre o modo como estas construções espelhavam a imagem da vida moderna e da construção arquitectónica nos trópicos.




Les Terrasses de Merzal Allouache

Mais peut-être n’est-il pas trop tard : il faut tenter de vivre ! C’est ce projet fou de cinéma que Merzak Allouache tente infatigablement : un geste où il partage à la fois sa détresse et sa tendresse pour son pays. Car en dépit de la noirceur de ces portraits d’une société qui tourne en rond, à la merci des intérêts et des intrigueurs, Allouache module son regard acéré. Il place dans une femme qui tente de communiquer avec l’enfermée, dans une enfant qui voudrait libérer le prisonnier, dans de jeunes musiciens qui en appellent à la tolérance ou tout simplement dans l’ironie et l’humour, le recul et l’ouverture à l’avenir que résume la chanson de mariage au final : “laisse la nuit s’occuper de tes soucis / on ne sait jamais ce que demain nous réserve / la vie n’est qu’un jeu / lève-toi et profite de la vie / ne prend pas la vie trop au sérieux !”.

“Nous voulions changer le pays, c’est le pays qui nous a changé”, lâche le commissaire en regardant la nuit sur la ville. Les Terrasses n’a pas de dénouement car le nœud n’est pas près de se dénouer, mais le film participe d’un regard sur soi sans concession où l’enjeu n’est pas la dénonciation mais l’énergie de vivre à retrouver malgré le désillusionnement qu’impose le temps qui passe. D’un constat amer dans sa lucidité, Merzak Allouache fait sans tambours ni trompettes un appel à retrousser ses manches


Historiography and what statues or monuments come to represent. What keeps coming back to me, lines from Elizabeth Bishop’s The Monument, a poem I can’t find online.

Now can you see the monument? It is of wood
built somewhat like a box. No. Built
like several boxes in descending sizes
one above the other.
Each is turned half-way round so that
its corners point toward the sides
of the one below and the angles alternate.
Then on the topmost cube is set
a sort of fleur-de-lys of weathered wood,
long petals of board, pierced with odd holes,
four-sided, stiff, ecclesiastical.
From it four thin, warped poles spring out,
(slanted like fishing-poles or flag-poles)
and from them jig-saw work hangs down,
four lines of vaguely whittled ornament
over the edges of the boxes
to the ground.
The monument is one-third set against
a sea; two-thirds against a sky.
The view is geared
(that is, the view’s perspective)
so low there is no “far away,”
and we are far away within the view.

Slow griefwork

So it goes on. Your death at 56. Suddenly, and terribly, irrelevant: your number on my phone, your birth date on a calendar.

Cut up

David Pelham on JG Ballard and the art of Eduardo Paolozzi

Throughout the pages of Abba Zabba we see the Ballardian highways, the high-rise concrete blocks, the wrecked automobiles, corpse-strewn beaches and scenes of violent unrest, military intervention and shattered landscapes alarmingly juxtaposed with incongruous photographs of smiling pin-ups and domestic scenes. One only has to riffle through its pages to appreciate how closely these two brilliant artists pivoted upon a common fulcrum. Indeed they both moved effortlessly into the art of no boundaries, fusing the powerful quasi-scientific realms of their imagination, leading us into their studied worlds of nihilism and chaos, and it remains a great disappointment to me that all my attempts to instigate a large format special collaboratory Ballard/Paolozzi publication when I was Art Director of Penguin Books were repeatedly rejected.




If only I could make an effort, an effort of attention, to try and discover what’s happening, what’s happening to me, what then, I don’t know, I’ve forgotten my apodosis, but I can’t, I don’t hear any more, I’m sleeping, they call that sleeping, there they are again, we’ll have to start killing them again, I hear this horrible noise, coming back takes time, I don’t know where from, I was nearly there, I was nearly sleeping, I call that sleeping, there is no one but me, there was never anyone but me, here I mean, elsewhere is another matter, I was never elsewhere, here is my only elsewhere, it’s I who do this thing and I who suffer it, it’s not possible otherwise, it’s not possible so, it’s not my fault, all I can say is that it’s not my fault, it’s not anyone’s fault, since there isn’t anyone it can’t be anyone’s fault, since there isn’t anyone but me it can’t be mine, sometimes you’d think I was reasoning, I’ve no objection, they must have taught me reasoning too, they must have begun teaching me, before they deserted me, I don’t remember that period, but it must have marked me, I don’t remember having been deserted, perhaps I received a shock.

— Samuel Beckett: from The Unnamable