Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Oh my god, we'll all be dead soon!. Thoughts on turning 50.

Alan Hollinghurst recently said that, “…novels are really about young people; they are about how people find themselves and become themselves”
I don’t believe this, but there is some truth in it and it got me thinking that perhaps this is why so many people I know have disengaged with fiction and story as they’ve gotten older. If the narratives that are being focused on are those of young people, why would they (the oldsters) be interested?. Also, is it true that being older means being in a static, stationary position of having ‘found’ and ‘become’ yourself. Surely this isn’t true. And yet it does feel true to say that the narratives/images that might be meaningful for a young person would be different to those that would be significant for an old person.
Does Joseph Campbell’s or Dan Harmon’s Hero’s Journey still apply at 50? I remember the painter Ken Kiff saying that as he got older he became more interested in the images of the desert fathers, the hermits and saints who took themselves into isolation. They seemed to him like a reversed,mirror image of the young Hero leaving home at the start of his/her adventure. If this image is resonant for older people, does it mean that old age is, in a sense, a withdrawal from the world? A disengagement? If so, what stories and images cluster around this? I think it has to do with a kind of bereavement. A bereavement for one’s own death. If being young is about finding and becoming yourself, is being old about dissolving, becoming un-whole? No, that can’t be it.  When I was young, I thought about death a lot (I’ve always been a fun guy). It was something that was going to happen to me. As an old person, I think about death just as much, but differently. As something which is happening to me. The process is happening. Of course, this isn’t exactly true, but that’s how I feel. I think it’s to do with this sense of coming to terms with one’s own death. Like bereaving before someone has died. Do you remember when the the 75 year old broadcaster David Dimbleby got a tattoo? I remember seeing that and thinking, That’s a tattoo on a corpse. Ofcourse, Dimbleby is just as alive as myself, but it was an action that was a distinct missing-the-point. Like all those bucket lists that old codgers tick off ( I speak as an old codger myself). I’ve met plenty of old people who delight in saying that they’re going to grow old disgracefully and there always seems to be something slightly hysterical in their attitude. However I can see that they’re rejecting the image of the wise old person. That’s not fruitful. Stasis and stability is not fruitful. Crazy old codgers are better. But there should be something grave and somber about growing old, shouldn’t there? Look, I don’t want to be on a moral high horse, I think that distraction is a fine technique, and as good a way of dealing with death as any other. But the bucket list model of ageing is different to Yeats’ “Old men should be explorers.” The Desert Fathers were explorers.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dream is the only genre.

It occurred to me while watching Intimidation how all film, all art, is dream. Dream is the only genre.
Then I thought how realism and it's corollary, world-building, are anti-dream. In the same way that atheism is anti-religion. It seeks to oppose something by first redefining it as something that it isn't.
When I watch a film, or read a book and say dismissively, "That isn't plausible!" or "That would never happen in real life!", well, that's beside the point. I wouldn't say that about a dream. It's power doesn't lie in how close it is to reality.
The opposite of this is the modernist art-for-arts sake idea that we reveal the flatness of the painting's surface as an anti-realist, or anti-illusion, anti-mimetic technique. But this doesn't use the grammar of dream. It's not a dream language. The dream isn't entirely and only about the fact that it's not reality.
Surrealism sometimes gets close, but too often relies on stylistic techniques, e.g., placing random, unlikely objects next to each other. This happens in dream, but for a purpose.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Unvaluing cultural production.

Read this in an article by Alex Petridis;
"Nevertheless, there are certainly areas that cloak themselves in a kind of wilful obscurity. As Marcus Mustafa – owner of London’s solitary specialist heavy metal record shop Crypt of the Wizard – puts it: “Bands want to maintain themselves as small. They’re like, ‘Don’t listen to this record, don’t talk about us.’”
He and Crypt of the Wizard’s manager Charlie Wooley reel off examples – the legendary French black metal bands of the L├ęgions Noires collective, who refused to release any albums or play live, preferring to circulate demos in tiny numbers among their friends, which eventually leaked on to the internet; labels such as California’s Rhinocervus, which released albums and EPs without titles, artist names or track listings; festivals that decline to inform fans who’s actually playing, “so it’s like, ‘Are you strong enough to come anyway?’”
It’s an extreme ethos partly founded in a rejection of commerciality. “I think it’s a bit like if you can’t make money doing something,” says Charlie"
Thinking about this, it connects with a couple of other things;
1. Is this a manifestation of the Long Tail economic model of cultural production? Eg, It's simply a result of the fact that there is so much more product, and that means everything  becomes "devalued' or "unvalued" or "revalued". I seem to constantly come across articles/interviews where various artists/writers/whatever are bemoaning the fact that it's impossible to make a living from their art anymore. The root cause of this isn't just the increased platform for 'content', it's the the massive proliferation of content, (Two slightly different things) which has resulted in commercial value plummeting. This partly because value in the art world was always maintained by means of a scam. A coterie of artistic aristocracy (critics, gallery owners, etc) who could maintain an illusion of unquestionable, non-subjective value. A canon.
2. Is this one version of the future? In a world where, we are told, technology will make work unnecessary and where citizens will need to be given a universal wage to keep us functioning as consumers in a capitalist society? Will we all become producers of capital product? All making our death metal albums, paintings, poems, etc? 
3.Will we return to a model of production/consumption more resembling the early modernists? Short print runs for friends ?

4.I'm excited and anxious about all this. It's like Beuy's model of art-for-all. Only brought about by malign market forces rather than social political momentum.

Time wasted: it all contributes

"If I end up with just a few lines of dialogue, it no longer panics me. All time spent considering your play is well spent, regardless of outcome. One day you write nothing, the next you write eight pages. It’s not in your hands."
David Hare

I like this. I like this bit; All time spent considering your play is well spent, regardless of outcome.

He's not saying it's okay to not produce. He's saying, the important thing is to stay focused, or 'hovering over' the project. It's good because the focus isn't on productivity or being prolific, and he's kind-of shrugging his shoulders. This is just the way it is.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Thinking about this in relation to my reading of Donald Kalsched. His description of the relationship between a protector/torturer/hostage-taker on the one hand, and a soul-figure on the other. This really resonates for me.
Especially as it develops the narrative. The story had got stuck at a particular point. Ted Hughes in Goddess of Complete Being doesn't really offer a story (and with it the promise of progression/resolution) so much as a few different positions (male principle committing violence to female principle, then this reversed, etc) Kalsched offers a next step based on a redemptive (even christian?) notion of good suffering. Suffering as an active process as opposed to violence which is a form of denial.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

All work and no play.

"Write by hand. But … begin each day by typing up what you did the day before. That allows you to settle, while admitting a little computer-generated distraction on the way. You don’t have to feel you are punishing yourself. You’re not an ascetic or a saint. You’re a guy doing a job. Across the table from you, your girlfriend is working on a translation. There’s a cheerful tippity-tap. You’re not suffering."

Reading this by Tim Parks today in the Guardian. He talks about writing as a performance, but, most interestingly he suggests that the artists can try different roles or characters. I mean, see his activity in different ways. A saint or suffering ascetic, a guy just doing his job, whatever works. "Works" here meaning whatever allows you to take the handbrake off and produce something.
This is interesting because it makes me think I can look at my 'role'. Who am I being? the suffering, romantic artist; the chilled-out, whistling amateur painter; the invisible outsider artist? It matters because it effects how the work turns out, but more importantly how pleasurable the experience of painting is.

While thinking about this I'm also keeping in mind Adam Phillips comment about the difference between a critical faculty and a faculty of appreciation.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Paul Nash

Went to see the Paul Nash exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre today. The piece that really stood out for me was this early pen and wash picture. Never seen it before, but it's amazing!
I love;

  1. The image
  2. The weird and wonderfully wonky way that the figures are drawn.
  3. The weird wonky s shape made by the winged figure and the standing figure.
  4. The way that the two figures are joined by their heads!
  5. The amazingly detailed and invented landscape, much smaller in scale than the figures. Are they gods? Giants? Or is it just dream logic?
  6. The inventedness of it all. It feels like it was just made up. No reference to real trees or people.
  7. The line made by the pen; so thin and a bit scratchy. Like an etching.
  8. The preciousness of it. the feeling that Paul Nash was totally involved in this little world. You could move around it in your head!