Friday, 3 August 2018

The three books that I am working on

Here are the covers of the three books that I am currently working on.

Book that I am working on #1. Planet Zhelanie (Novel)
Cover illustrated by Sofia Lindgren

Book that I am working on #2 - Collected Essays.
Titles: 2001, Cinema as a Platonic Ideal; Jazz and Democracy; It's a Wonderful Life and the New Deal; Literary Creativity in Cinema; The 1950s and the 1990s, Prosperous Complacency; The Communal Town and the Liberal City; Paganism in the Fiction of J. G. Ballard; A Comparison Between the Internet and The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges.
Cover designed by me (hence the amateurishness).

Book that I am working on #3 - Fifteen Characters: Loners and Altruists (short story collection).
Characters: Edward Heath (British politician, Loner, 1916-2005), Charles Crumb (American cartoonist, Loner, 1942-1992) Jo Cox (British politician, Altruist 1974-2016,), Charlie Parker (jazz musician, loner, 1920-1955), Edgard Varese (Franco-American composer, Loner, 1883-1965), Marcelo Bielsa (Argentinean football manager, Loner, 1955-), Bobby Fischer (American chess player, Loner, 1943-2008), Clement Attlee (British politician, altruist, 1883-1967), Meister Eckhart, German theologian and philosopher, Loner, 1260-1328), Otto von Bismarck (Minister/President of Prussia and Chancellor of Germany, 1815-1898), Ferdinand Lasalle (French politician, Altruist, 1825-1864), Diogones the Cynic (Greek philosopher, Loner, c. 412 bc-323 bc), Hannah Arendt (German-American philisopher, altruist, 1906-1975), Gordon Brown (British politician, altruist, 1951-), Karlheinz Stockhausen (German composer, loner, 1928-2007).
I seem to be partial to dead white men - please lynch me.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

The physiognomy of literary authors #4

Look at those eyes. Those are the eyes of someone who has been persecuted, of someone who is terrified.

And indeed, we do know that Kafka was persecuted and terrified. We know that from his writing and we know that from his biographical information (of course, Kafka has one of the most documented biographies). We know about his relationship with his father, of his doomed romances.

We know from his stories that he wrote about arbitrary persecution, about nebulous authoritative bureaucracies. He foreshadowed the terrifying totalitarianism of the Nazis and the USSR.

And we can tell that when we look at him. This is a petrified individual, someone who is afraid to talk. This is someone who is constantly toils. Indeed, he embodies the horrible cliche that a writer must suffer for his art.

Was Kafka precognitive? Do his eyes foresee Auschwitz, show trials, gulags and Hiroshima? Is his petrified state the perfect analogy for the horrors of the 20th century?

The physiognomy of literary authors #3

Borges is a blind author, which sounds like a paradox. Surely he can't write and read without sight? Surely he must write in braille. Well, he never learned braille, he would dictate his writing to his amanuenses.

Borges lost his eyesight when he was younger (but then, so did Milton and Joyce), a tragic predicament for such a learned and passionate reader. He had read thousands of thousands of book - indeed, when critics write about him, they always stress his reading. He read books that no-one read anymore, such as classics, medieval, Renaissance writing - you name it. His erudition was vast.

But can we tell that when we look at him? Indeed we can. We can tell that beyond his blind eyes, his mind is buzzing with his learned erudition. His mind is buzzing with copious libraries, labyrinths, parallel corridors, roaming tigers, infinite universes and infinite libraries.

We can tell this because he smiles and he is full of wonder. These images circle his mind again and again. He retains the same curiosity and imagination that he had as a child. The world for his is one continuum - the bird that he saw as an eight year old is still with him. Everything is a manifestation of the same Will.

And, although he is old, he is the still the same young person that he once was. Everything is always for Borges.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The physiognomy of literary authors #2

When we look at Paul Auster's eyes, we can tell that he is earnest. Although he is sometimes called a 'post-modern' author, that ambiguous term suggests that he is an ironic trickster. As it happens, Auster is not ironic. He means what he says. He claims that you do not choose to become a writer, it chooses you. He always wanted to be a writer with a capital W. He really wanted a black-and-white photograph taken of himself, with a cigaratte, a black cup of coffee, next to a typewriter and copious pages.

We can ascertain this when we look at him. His eyes tell us he is earnest, as does his dress code. He sometimes wears leather jackets, but he wears typical writer's attire. This is not the expression of a trickster.

When his writing becomes convoluted, when he takes us on parallel narratives and digression, that's just how it goes. No hidden message. No message about the unreality of the world. See, Auster tells us that, when he tells the story, that's where it takes him. Again, the writing chooses you.

And when we look at Auster, he means what he says. It is not artifice. It is not irony. It is not meta. This is a man who really is a Writer. And we can tell when we look at his earnest eyes and his earnest way of dressing.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The physiognomy of literary authors #1

J. G. Ballard looks like a jolly good chap. Just look at that broad grin! You can certainly tell that he likes a good drink or two at night. You can tell that he smokes the occasional cigar. You can tell from his bulging stomach that he does like plentiful meals. You can tell from that grin that he likes taking his golden retriever for a walk and tucking his daughters in at night.

So how can we account for his deviant imagination? How can we account for his fetishisation of car crashes? Semen on binnacles? Dead celebrities? J. F. Kennedy's death envisioned as a competitive sport? Growing flowers with semen?

So how can the (pseudo-) science of physiognomy account for this? If J. G. Ballard looks like a happy, decent chap, how do we account for the monsters and dragons that roam across his twisted psyche?

Well, that grin does have a malignant aspect to it. Perhaps he is a sadomasochist. If he feels compelled to write about sexual violence, he perhaps does enjoy it. Perhaps he does enjoy manipulating people's emotions. When we look at those eyes of his, we perhaps can ascertain that he does enjoy danger. The car crash that endured before the publication of Crash was most likely not accidental.

What about his dress code? Perhaps this is just as sinister as his profession. He claims that he is a writer, but he uses this to gain respectability. He dresses in a refined way, again, to gain respectability. He claims to write in metaphors to gain respectability.

But it is all a front. The smile on the face of this man is the smile of a man who loves pornography. It is the smile of a man who manipulates the emotions of others. It the smile of a deviant.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

My top 10 films of all time

10. Crimes and Misdemeanours - Woody Allen (USA, 1989)

This was made during Allen's so-called 'serious' period, when he made homages to the likes of Bergman and Fellini. It interlaces dramatic and comedic scenes.

Allen references so-called 'existentialist' themes here and the title knowingly alludes to Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. A character kills a lover who threatens to make their affair public and reveal his financial fraud, so he kills her off. He is wracked by guilt throughout the entire film, but he recovers and resumes his daily life. Most books and films which deal with guilt usually end with redemption, but this is not the case here.

Allen's theme is that the world is - you guessed it ! - meaningless and random and, as such, amoral. Societies aren't always just and fair and this film - a relatively big release - doesn't always reward ethics or merit.

I love Woody Allen's films and this my favourite film of his, as it contains the best examples of both his drama and his comedy.

9. Aguirre, the Wrath of God - Werner Herzog (Germany, 1971)

This film is 'awesome' in the true sense of the word. Herzog is German himself and harks back to 19th century ideas like the 'sublime.' The film captures images of impotent men thrust into the vastness and chaos of nature, which brings to minds paintings by Caspar David Friedrich.

Herzog also plays around with other Romantic ideas, such as the primacy of the individual. Aguirre asserts his authority and becomes a mad autocrat. However, Herzog does have a sense of humour and does satirise these self-important notions.

The characters strive to reach 'El Dorado,' a mystical ideal that doesn't really exist. In this sense, this film is like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Heart of Darkness set in Renaissance times. Aguirre is possessed by grand ambitions that are impossible to realise. He wants to conquer the Amazon forests and become a king. The film documents this quixotic quest and documents the character's descent into madness, but there is also a touch of humour and the absurd about it.

Herzog delved into the Amazon forests with basic film equipment and a film crew. Some of the shots that he captures are awesome - grand long shots of horizons and rapids. He also spent several weeks in the Amazons with actor Klaus Kinsky, a literal madman who resembled the eponymous character.

8. The Second Heimat - Edgar Reitz (Germany, 1992)

This might not qualify as a film. It may be described as a series, or a film shown in parts.

Heimat is a series of films that covers a German village from 1919 until 1984. This series revisits a character from that series. It follows him going to university in Munich and the series spans 1960 until 1970. Reitz mentioned that the film is meant to cover a 'second home' that we find as adults.

The first series is more universal and covers important historical events whereas this second series is more specific. It follows avant-garde movements in art, mainly experimental classical music as well as filmmakers and actors. It captures a sense of excitement, as these artists try new and different forms. Edgar Reitz - along with Herzog - was part of the German New Wave and pronounced that 'papa's cinema is dead'. All the musicians featured in this film were professional musicians. Many of their projects are grand and do not often come to fruition. The main character, Herman, builds his own state of the art electronic studio.

The film also features radical politics. Seminars are often seized by students, who refuse to conform to their 'paternalism'. The German left was more militant than the rest of Europe, as they were reacting against the Nazi heritage of their parents. Reitz looking back is not too sympathetic to these movements, who appear indulgent.

Like the first season, the film alternates between colour and black and white. Scenes shot in day time are in b/w whereas night time is shot in colour. The latter scenes were shot in the most state-of-the-art film equipment. Despite being a chronicle of the avant-garde, it is classically shot.

This film for me captures the excitement of trying new things in art, rapid social changes and the excitement of starting university.

7. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff (USA, 1994)

This film really captures the life of a single individual. Zwigoff knew Crumb very well, so he really opens up here.

Crumb was a cartoonist and produced his most influential during the 1960s. However, his satire is less interesting and he is more interesting when he draws his private life. He rarely censors himself and graphically chronicles sexual fantasies and hang-ups. The brilliant thing about the film is that it follows the same prerogative - it is an equally honest attempt at revealing the private life of an individual. Several of his fetishes are featured here in some detail.

Crumb came from a broken home. His father was overbearing, authoritarian and beat up his three son on a regular basis. Zwigoff features Robert's brothers Charles and Maxon, who are even stranger. They are both very maladjusted - Charles lives at home with his mother whilst Maxon begs in the streets - and the film is as much a documentary about the entire Crumb family as it is about Robert.

There is plenty to dislike about Crumb, as his comics objectify women and also feature racism. Several talking heads are featured who discuss his work and they take divergent views. Some feminist critics disparage his misogyny and claim that it is irresponsible to release deviant sexual fantasises into the public domain. His defenders claim that he is projecting uncomfortable attitudes that exist and that he is dealing with urges and impulses that we often try to suppress.

This is a very moving film about a broken family, mental illness and art as therapy.

6. It's a Wonderful Life - Frank Capra (USA, 1946)

This is quite possibly the most famous film on this list - indeed, many people watch this on Christmas day. Capra often took the side of the underdog and the little man and how he overcomes adversity. In this film, George Bailey is frequently hounded by a banker called Potter. After the banker steals his money, Bailey wishes that he had never been born and his guardian angel appears to console him.

The supernatural element usually holds people attention the most, but I really like the politics of the film. Bailey's family company 'Building and Loan' mirrors the kind of social institutions that existed at the time. They help people buy mortgages and protect people from destitution. Potter tries with all his might to close the company down and he is often satirised. Bailey symbolises the citizen who wants to protect the community whereas Potter symbolises the predatory entrepreneur. Indeed, after the Great Depression bankers were forbidden from mixing with insurance companies. As such, many people have called this a piece of propaganda for the New Deal. They would not have been able to make this film in the McCarthyite 1950s.

Capra's hero is loyal to his community. At a time of booming opportunities - social mobility hit a record high in the USA at this point - George chooses to stay at Building and Loan and to marry his wife. It is a true utopia, as the institution is miraculously saved by contributions from the entire community.

This film makes you believe in shared human values, such as generosity and fairness. And, yes, it always makes me cry.

5. A Matter of Life and Death - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (UK, 1946)

A Matter of Life and Death is about a pilot who crashes his plane. As he does so, he speaks to an American woman over a wireless. He mysteriously avoids death, as there is a glitch in heaven! There is a trial in heaven to determine whether or not he should he return to heaven or remain in Earth. Several famous people from heaven are shunted in to defend him in his trial. He later marries the woman woman.

The films captures the politics of the time. UK had just voted for a Labour government and voted Churchill out. The film captures the community spirit of the day and the need to create a better society. At the same, it makes it apparent that Britain is the birth place of liberalism. In a trial scene in heaven, Britain faces the USA and asserts that it truly is the place that grands individuals the most rights.

It is also a film that makes interesting comments about the afterlife and it mentions both Plato and Aristotle. It is suggested that the afterlife is a repository of ideas rather than souls. Indeed, several thinkers harbour and they debate their ideas. Christian ideas about the immaterial soul are rarely mentioned.

Heaven is shot in monochrome black and white whereas earth is shot in bright technicolour. The set pieces in heaven are grand whilst the scenes in earth often employ spectacular optical illusions that even look impressive today.

This film captures the optimism of the time, both its theme and content are ingeniously creative and it has some playful ideas about the afterlife. A true gem from the golden era of British cinema.

4. A Man Escaped - Robert Bresson (France, 1956)

Bresson wanted to distance himself from theatre. To do this, he hired non-professional actors. He described them as 'models' and sought to reduce as much drama from their performances. His shots often focus on particular objects via close-ups and he often shoots door knobs via slanted angles. As such, this process as being described as 'ascetic.'

Despite this, there is a lot of dramatic propulsion in the film. There is a voice-over that describes the character's interior monologues. The non-dramatic expressions and the camera angles often invoke interior feelings. As such, Bresson has been described as a literary filmmaker.

The film follows a political prisoner in WWII France. He often overcomes several improbable obstacles. As such, there is a sense of the supernatural about it, as escape is very improbable. Despite the lack of drama, it does make for very cathartic viewing, especially its use of Mozart's Requiem. A truly captivating and overpowering film.

3. Andrei Rublev - Andrei Tarkovsky (Russia, 1966)

Although Tarkovsky was not an especially political person, his film came to be seen as a political statement. His eponymous character is an artist and, as such, this is a form of creative expression that the Soviets sought to control and suppress. He is also an individual who sought to express himself - once more, the Soviets sought to create a homogeneous society. Finally, the film has a strong religious message and the Soviet Union was an atheistic society that sought to proscribe all forms of religion. As such, they edited the film when it was released and the full version was only restored very recently.

The film is set in medieval Russia. It has some scenes which are shot in an astonishing way - scenes of Mongol invasions, of pagan rituals and the construction of a bell. It also has a historical breadth to it that recalls War and Peace. However, that novel sought to recreate an entire nation and the spirit of the Napoleonic wars whereas this film recreates the lifetime of an individual.

Bells were very central in medieval Russia. Entire communities were centred around it and they alerted them about plagues or important events. The film ends with the construction of a bell. A young boy constructs it, despite not knowing how to do it. As such, there is a sense of the miraculous about it. Andrei Rublev breaks his vow of silence and vows to continue painting which, once more, has a sense of the miraculous. The film bursts into colour and reveals some of Rublev's paintings. Like Bresson, Tarkovsky was a religious person who used the medium of film to express this. Like A Man Escaped, the film depicts a miraculous event that transcends the laws of nature.

2. Blue Velvet - David Lynch (USA, 1986)

Lynch's film reveals a dark subculture lurking beneath the veneer of a calm suburban neighbourhood. A young man finds a severed ear and starts to do some independent research. Soon he uncovers psychosis and murder.

Previous directors like Hitchcock similarly filmed suspense films where something sinister happened. However, Hitchcock would suggest it via subtle clues. Lynch, however, graphically reveals it in all its monstrosity. We see rape and murder in graphic detail.

Lynch recreates 1950s via billboards and recreates the ambience of American suburbia. You become reacquainted with clich├ęs - the peeping tom, American teen film, crime, etc. - but then subverts them with something bizarre. (Severed ear, bizarre drug inhalation, etc.) This makes it all the more seductive. Lynch also recreates 1950s cinema through typical close-up shots that reveal, say a femme fatal or male gaze, but it often subverts them via bizarre dream logic.

When I start watching this film, I start to think that it's naive and childish, but by the end I am always taken by it. This is my favourite Lynch movie.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick (USA, 1968)

This is my favourite film for a number of reasons. It is a film that I can analyse and think about endlessly. You could make the case that it is the most well-made film ever - its attention to detail, scientific accuracy, its expensive set-pieces, its grand shots. I also find it to be emotionally overpowering - my heart races every time.

The film is about how extraterrestrial entities help humans transcend the rest of the animal kingdom. They help them do this by developing technological weapons. Finally, they help them transcend humanity by becoming superhuman and becoming a non-material idea.

The film is about ideas which underlie matter - as such, the film is about Platonic ideals (I wrote an essay about this). Also, the extraterrestrials help them regress to a more advanced state that precedes birth. They also help them to leave their caves and encounter enlightened knowledge.

Then there is the ending, which takes you to another place completely. Also, optimal use of R/J Strauss and Ligeti!

Thursday, 24 May 2018


Winamop just published another little story of mine called 'Charles.' Part two of a book called Fifteen Characters: Loners and Altruists.