Friday, 31 December 2010

Without spectacles

I have posted a photograph of myself in the past wearing spectales... Here I am not wearing spectacles.

I am a self-obsessed little cunt.

Changes will be made to this seldom-read blog this upcoming year. Watch out...

Happy new year.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Unorthodoxy in music

My music habits are rather different to most; my notions of music aren't similar to those of the average person. Most 4/4 music tires me and I am equally exhilarated by harmonious melodies as I am by dissonance and atonality.

Yet it seems that I am alone in having these preferences. But then I look at other art fields - cinema, literature and painting - and I find that in these fields unorthodoxy is prevalent and popular.

Mainstream cinema, largely due to the popularity of Tarantino in the mid '90s, has increasingly used different narrative techniques which dispel linearity and embrace time ellipsis. In painting there has always been an abundance of unorthodoxy since the start of the twentieth century, which has frequently crossed over to the public spotlight, and realism has been downplayed in favour of surrealism and expressionism. Avant-garde writing frequently becomes best-selling material, and academic institutions put as much emphasis on modernism of the early 20th century as they do to more traditional literature from preceding centuries.

And what about music? As far as I see it, both 'serious' and 'popular' music circles always put far more emphasis on the conventional and banal, to the extent that unorthodox music is non-existent. Many music lovers are unaware of these musical genres.

The niggling question is: is it marketable? Most people instantly reach the conclusion that, no, it isn't. To some extent, they may be right. I had a conversation with my father on this topic and he said that, when hearing music, you are constantly assaulted and you can't really 'look away'. When looking at a painting, you are seeing it from a certain distance and you have time to think it over and appreciate it in a different way than when you hear a record.

Often, when people have heard my music playing in the background they'll laugh and ask me: "Why do you like this?" They don't seem to be picking up on the musical activity I hear and they find it baffling how anyone would want to hear such a 'racket'.

But then, there is a select few who are ravished by these sounds. The problem is that people who may like this music have no access to it because they simply haven't heard it. I was lucky to discover unconventional music at the age of thirteen, but before then I was listening to music that, when I hear it now, makes me sick.

I do feel that, a viable step to a solution for this, is that stores like HMV and Virgin actually had a section of 'Avant-Garde' music. People who may like this stuff may discover music that is both challenging and fresh in fields ranging from jazz, pop, classical, jazz, rock and more.

Some musical circles and cliques decry how figures like Albert Ayler and Charles Ives were misunderstood and neglected in their time. But wouldn't it be good if music followers, who haven't heard them and may like them, agreed with these people on a larger scale?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Book by book: J. G. Ballard's bibliography

I'm only covering his novels here, even though I do think his shorter fiction is the greater achievement, especially the earliest ones from the late 50s/early 60s and Vermillion Sands.

Ballard is the British writer of greatest significance to me. He played a dominant role in my episode and was an idol at the time. He is the author whose books are of greatest quantity on my shelf. Now I will go through all the novels of the greatest literary prophet of the 20th century.


The Drowned World (1962)

Ballard's prescient first novel envisions a 22nd century London inundated and ridden by primeval swamps, decades before 'Global Warming' was a common fact. It is a science fiction novel in the post-apocalyptic genre, although the characters aren't depressed nor negatively affected by their surroundings but enraptured and ravished by them. Ballard plays homage to surrealist painting, with the morass of plantation and trees representing the chaotic world those works envision. There is a scene that is an homage to a stunt Dali pulled off; the character Kerans plunges into the deep water in a water garment, which is what Dali did in the 20th century, claiming that he was "exploring the deepest recesses of the mind". Like these paintings, the surroundings have an effect on the unconscious mind; the characters are addled by dreams of their former ancestors. Indeed, the characters regress to a more primordial mind state and Ballard's setting prompts them to have recurring thoughts of people several centuries their senior. Ballard says that, with the more the world is in tatters, the more primitive and dehumanised we are. The characters are comprised of doctors who are recording data and statistics from the zone. The character, Kerans, instead of returning north to salvation, eventually sets off to the south and into self-annihilation.

The Drought (1964)

The second in Ballard's catastrophe trilogy. This is the The Drowned World in reverse; now the shortage, and the cause of distress for the characters, is water; and, to head to salvation, the central character heads south. This novel features all the hallmarks and quintessential aspects which are associated with Ballard: drained swimming pools, loose lions, quixotic characters, strangely attractive women. An underrated novel but not essential; recommended reading once you've read at least five or six of his other books.

The Crystal World (1966)

Haven't read this one yet.

The Atrocity Exhibition (1969)

A change of tack for Ballard and a book that confirmed him as an avant-garde voice. This is Ballard's attempt at trying to make sense out of a world that has become increasingly psychotic; indeed, the character is a doctor in a mental hospital suffering a mental breakdown. Its validity as a novel is disputable (Ballard called the miniatures a "condensed novels"); it is a collection of disparate miniatures with little or no narrative thread interconnecting them. This fragmentary approach was inspired by William Burroughs, a writer Ballard greatly admired. At the time of its conception, Ballard felt like capturing a transfiguration of reality he felt was undergoing at the time. With the mass media landscape, we live in a world of fiction and, conversely, the 'space inside our own heads' is false. The character's breakdown is ignited by several celebrities and events from the late sixties, from Kennedy's assassination to Marilyn Monroe's suicide. The protagonist name, in addition to other character's, changes in the course of the chapters and this is one of many aspects of the book that confounds and confuses many readers. Ballard didn't recommend reading the book linearly, but to simply read snippets here and there from different parts of the book until some sort of cohesion is formed. Martin Amis noted that it was unusual at the time to have chapters with names of like 'Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan' and 'Princess Margaret's Facelift' but concluded "That would be unusual at any time, perhaps." The current edition comes with footnotes from the author that elucidate any difficulties the reader may encounter.

Crash (1973)

The first in a trilogy of novels where Ballard centres catastrophe, not in a futuristic environmental disaster, but in the heralding of motorways and high-rise apartments. This work lavishly depicts a character (called 'Ballard') who, after crashing into a car and being in a state of shock, becomes aroused and pursues a peculiar form of fetishism in gaining sexual pleasure from car crashes. He finds that he is not alone and soon discovers an underworld of like-minded individuals, all led by the insatiably gruelling Vaughn. Vaughn is also obsessed with a sexual death with celebrity culture and the book culminates with him dying with actress Elizabeth Taylor. Like many Ballard novels, there is a coldness and the characters pursue the most gruesome sexual activities - like penetrating a woman's wound - with little regard to morality and affection. The book caused a minor stir upon publication, but when David Cronenberg chose to adapt the novel to film in 1996 it caused a frisson of scandal of unimagined proportions. Indeed, Ballard was aiming to shock the reader, to make the reader come to the realisation that many people enjoy pain and danger. A psychiatrist's wife read a manuscript of the novel and stated "This author is beyond psychiatric help: do not publish," which Ballard said "Is the greatest compliment one can be paid."

Concrete Island (1974)

A Robinson Crusoe for modern times, an architect crashes into an converging motorway and maroons himself in a small island lying beneath it. He rations food out for himself, finds ways of healing his wounds and, eventually, as you would expect from Ballard, ends up living in his own mind. The character finds two other people in the island: a woman, with whom he fornicates, and a simple-minded tramp. Although he is initially very keen in the idea of escaping the island, he decides against it and stays.

High-Rise (1975)

Although it is not my favourite, I can confidently say that this is Ballard's best novel. Its setting, although the novel takes place in present day, looks to the future: an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art luxury building housing thousands and of people and even has its own supermarket, pool and school. This enables Ballard to deconstruct social codes and do what he does best: present humanity at a slant and depict human degenerance, where people act in a primal state. As soon as the building electricity power fails and many petty worries have been escalating progressively over a few weeks, the inhabitants separate themselves in three distinct groups, attacking one another and eventually resorting to cannibalism. Like his two previous novels, which along with this work form a trilogy, Ballard uses modern advances in technology as a way of putting forth a cautionary warning about humanity. Reading this, it comes as no surprise that Ballard was a literary favourite amongst underground anarchist groups and publications in the late 70s.

The Unlimited Dream Company (1979)

Although this is not his best novel, I can confidently say it is my favourite. Ballard's three previous novels, despite depicting strange occurrences and unravelling a world of perverted sexuality and violence, were firmly rooted in realism. Here he abandons it completely and undertakes a full-frontal assault of surrealism. In naming the protagonist of Crash after himself, Ballard has said in the past that that book was an effort at an 'internal autobiography', but this book bears features and recurring obsessions that make it abundantly clear that this is his 'internal autobiography'. The unsubtly named 'Blake' steals an aircraft (Ballard flew airplanes with the RAF) and crashes it into the thames of Shepperton (the small town Ballard settled in from the late 1950s until his death). The story is narrated in first person by a narrator who is not at all reliable, which suggests that the entire novel could be merely be delusions of a person in a constant psychotic state. Or it could be interpreted that, when he crashes the plane into the thames, he actually dies and that this is his afterlife. Blake has unusual superhuman powers: he can heal sick people, fly and, most notoriously, grow a variety of exotic plantation by spreading his semen around. Once more, Ballard grounds the novel on a common theme whose germination would soon become clear in Empire of the Sun: Blake is incapable of leaving the small suburb and, despite feeling an overwhelming urge to break free, stays. Although his plans are initially malevolent - he wants to absorb all the citizens of Shepperton that will give him power to fly away - he changes after another character, an owner of the zoo who frees vultures out of cages and they are prevailing presence in the novel, shoots him. The wound of the shot enables him to fly away from Shepperton with all its inhabitants and resurrect his deceased and enigmatic lover. Highly recommended reading.

Hello America (1981)

Haven't read this one yet.

Empire of the Sun (1984)

After been published, this novel surpassed the sales of all his other books combined within a few weeks. And after Steven Spielberg made a glossy, though impressive, Hollywood adaptation of it it catapulted Ballard into a fame that had, for the most part, previously evaded him. Ballard was raised in China and after Pearl Harbour and the second world war he was placed in an internment camp. This makes the origin of all the previous novels very clear and all his previous works could be seen as a reconstruction of the experiences described in this powerfully moving novel. The death of a Japanese soldier is described with a deadpan matter-of-fact style and the carnage described relentlessly is searing. Ballard, in essence, has been writing and rewriting these scenes time and time again. Jim moves from one escapade to another, all in the pursuit of going through "the university of life". At once a stunning departure and a recapitulation of all his former themes.

The Day of Creation (1987)

Haven't read this one yet.

Running Wild (1988)

This novella is something new for Ballard: a detective story. The parents of a whole street of middle-class children are murdered and they are missing, presumed to be kidnapped. Again, through this very readable and entertaining story, Ballard poses one of his most recurring themes: are we really as civilised as we think we are? All plotted out very well, with a revealing twist...

The Kindness of Women (1991)

The sequel to Empire of the Sun. We follow Jim into adult life, although now it is narrated in first person. Ballard chronicles his studies as a medical student, flying for the RAF in Canada, the discovery of Science Fiction in the 50s, the premature death of his wife, raising his children and the frantic 1960s where he describes his experiments with LSD. Like Empire, it is not all entirely true and many moments are fictionalised. It starts off in the Lunghua camp, surprisingly, it doesn't follow straight on from the end of Empire. The most poignant moments are from the women he meets and some of his sexual encounters, hence the title.

Rushing to Paradise (1994)

Haven't read this one yet.

Cocaine Nights (1996)

Ballard now writes detective fiction in novel form with Cocaine Nights, the first of a quadrology. Ballard's fiction, it seems, has darkened even more here; the sex scenes here are almost as lurid as those in Crash. The protagonist goes to a British resort in Spain called Estrella del Mar and the character's brother claims the guilt for setting a family's house on fire. Like much crime fiction, there are many twists and turns but they are far more depraved and darker. Riveting stuff, although it lacks a bit of the bite of the earlier work.

Super-Cannes (2000)

Haven't read this one yet.

Millennium People (2003)

Haven't read this one yet.

Kingdom Come (2006)

The opening paragraph is magnificent! The rest... Well, Ballard's strength had never been characterisation or dialogue and I've got no problem with that - I'm woeful with it in my own fiction. The problem is that it is just an entanglement of loose ideas with no interconnecting thread and it becomes quite jarring to read. This was his first most overtly political novel and tackled the topic of consumerism, and Ballard depicts it transforming it into fascism. Interesting ideas and concepts, but it doesn't come together as a novel.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Ipod shuffle #6

1. Impressions - Napalm Death

A rollicking start to the shuffle, but From Enslavement to Obliteration is weaker than Scum in that there is even less variety and the tracks are more 'samey'. Open chords are repeated, the drums (Mick Harris, or was he one of the many who of the original members who left in droves?), the most impressive aspect of Napalm's intensive cacophony, play at a ridiculous speed. Additionally, the angry rants. Every time I write about a smidgen of N. D. on this monthly regular, the description is bound to be the same...

2. Systematic Abuse - The Fall

I'm not at all fond of this album, but this track ain't that bad. Reformation TLC is a mere footnote in The Fall's rich and vast catalogue. This track in one of their stronger albums would seem rather tame, but here it stands out. The bass plays this simple line, which the rest of the band hammer out until the whole thing, four minutes into the track, smacks of tedium. I fucking love M. E. Smith's delivery, though: "I got a potato out, it is the same-uh. I got the paper out, it is the same-uh". When you think he has ran out of things to say, he surprises you by saying even less. No matter what the heck he rambles on about, it is fucking amazing and you are in awe of him.

3. Zion Hill [Alternate Take] - Albert Ayler

Even in the the vast world of hectic, dissonant and inharmonious world of free jazz Alber Ayler stands out as being rather difficult. That was earlier on, later his music became far more approachable. This is his later music. I fucking love this album, Love Cry, even though it was inspired by flower power and psychedelic drugs. He is actually playing a melody here and he resists the temptation of making hideous noises, which is most admirable. The fact that this is an alternate take acts as testament of the richness and power of the music, this is fucking amazing!

4. The Blessing - Ornette Coleman

Ayler could be seen as Coleman's musical progeny and it's doubtful that his initial career could have been accepted by the jazz cognoscenti had it been for the avenues Coleman opened up by records like these. It's quite hard to fathom that Coleman's music, especially this album Something Else!!!!, was considered so outré at the time. This is straightforward free-bob, but it really is 'something else'. This album is quite rare in his catalogue in that includes piano playing (is it from the master Paul Bley?). The classic Coleman line-up is sax, trumpet, bass and drums. Coleman's melodies are fucking luxurious and wonderful, and the soloing is by masters of their instruments.

5. Extinct - Nile

Nile incorporate Egyptian melodies and mythology into their brutally good death metal. This synth melody opens up for an incredible groove. Then chords are repeated below some malevolent howling (it just wouldn't be death metal if this were absent, would it?) Five minutes into the track it gets faster and it approximates grind. In the proliferation of predictable and dull death metal bands, Nile stand out. Nothing is more exhilarating than death metal that is well-crafted.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The comics of my youth #6

Mampato and Ogú fighting for Chilean independence 200 years ago...

Click to enlarge.

Goodbye, Don Van Vliet.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Review #17

Obras de Violeta Parra - Los Jaivas

Los Jaivas are a Chilean progressive rock band who took from many aspects of Chilean culture and music and transfigured them into extensive and complicated rock songs. Their most acclaimed album is Alturas de Machu Picchu, which sets to music Pablo Neruda's famous ode to the Peruvian mountains. In this album, Obras de Violeta Parra, they radically rework eleven songs from revered Chilean folklorist Violeta Parra and the result is what I consider to be their best album.

Though by no means is this an ordinary 'tribute album'. Los Jaivas take Parra's raw melodies as a vehicle to head onto complex compositions that are as much indebted to early 20th century classical music as Latin-American folk music. Six of the ten tracks in the album clock in at over eight minutes in length.

In contrast to their previous work from the late seventies, here the band downplay the folk elements in favour of almost symphonic constructions. In the opener 'Arauco tiene una pena' there is use of the indigenous native instrument 'trutuka', but it is interspersed with an ominous moog sound and Claudio Parra's splendorous piano playing. The whole band come into the picture, with each member playing spectacularly well, Gabriel Parra's drumming being of note. It is only seven minutes into the song that they return to a folksy style and perform music wherein Violeta Parra's original song is more discernible.

The next few songs, 'El guillatún', 'Manana me boy p'al norte' mediate between the band's folklorist and classical influences, but it is in tracks 'Y arriba quemando el sol' and 'El Gavilan' that Los Jaivas reach new ground. The latter track builds up on a crescendo furiously; by the time the track ends, it is difficult to remember that you are hearing what should be, in essence, a folk record.

That is not to say there is no room for the light-hearted or the simpler folk Los Jaivas have pursued elsewhere. 'Violeta ausente', for instance, is a fairly faithful rendition to the Parra original.

The album, like their Neruda tribute Alturas, does a remarkable job of interconnecting the original text with suitable music. Parra's original lyrics are complemented by arrangements where both prog-rock complexity and Latin-American folklore abound.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The remote edges #16

As promised, here is the landscape that follows on from the path I posted last week.

When I photographed this area, I had an encounter with an aged man and we both agreed how truly incredible it is how scarcely visited this beautiful place is...

Friday, 3 December 2010

My state of mind #19

I seem to be far more moderate these days, and I'm unsure whether that's a bad thing or not. Back in '07 I'd read books for excessive durations of time, stayed up all night and wrote extensive short stories in a single sitting. Now, whenever I pursue these activities, I halt and tell myself "That's enough". I guess that, in the long run, this is beneficial to my mental health, but at the same time there is a lack of intensity and vitality, resulting in overlong moments of tediousness.

But then was this really what I foresaw myself as in my year of 'unmitigated freedom'? Certainly, I wanted things to be intense, vivacious and exciting... At least I'm writing good fiction - for a change - and I guess that is more important.

Against my avowal that I wouldn't do any academic work this year, I am now retaking my A2 English Literature exam and completing Spanish A2. This means that I'm steadily revising for this exam independently and attending evening classes for the Spanish. If it all turns out as I want it to, this will leave me with a total of 3 As, albeit completed in three years. I'm doing this because I think it really would be better to attend a more respectable university in that, not only will the academic work be of a better standard, but there would be a wider range of people. Currently, in my UCAS application, I have Kent and Hull as my university choices in addition to East Anglia and King's College. Although Kent is my foremost choice because the modules for this Comparative Literature course sound so exciting, I am totally open to the two other 'prestigious' possibilities in that they would be a more intellectually enriching and stimulating experience.

I have postponed reading Sartre's Nausea until this exam is over and done with. I really don't want to dig my teeth into something as a heavy-going as that in the midst of revision. Otherwise, I've been overwhelmingly content with Kafka. I finished The Castle much earlier on in the past month and, despite the fact that many moments are overlong and that K. can become excessively irritating, I enjoyed it. I've steadily kept reading his diary entries recently, and I can't help but thinking - for all the setbacks, hitches and grief - that this is the kind of life I'd like to pursue later on. Looking at my own 2007 entries, there are some similarities in that he also becomes maddened with himself for not writing enough.

I don't think I can cope with reading four books at the same time simultaneously... That's what I've been doing this year and I find that a book is never enjoyed to its fullest potential this way. A couple of weeks ago I was reading, in tandem, The Castle, Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Milton's Paradise Lost and Kafka's Diaries. That's just too much! I think I'll revert to one, or at least two, books at a time again...

Almost two weeks ago I finished, without a shadow of doubt, my best story to date: 'The Painting on the Wall'. Not only is it my best but it is also my most extensive: 24 Word pages. Definitely a return to form to what I was writing just before becoming ill. I realised that I write better by typing directly onto a document in that you can think longer and you can refine and edit with greater ease. This story is an examination of art and representation of the world... I won't publish these stories online, but if any one wants to read them, you can always email me. The story will be collected in a collection called Confronting Reality: Stories from a Sabbatical Year.

Sadly, after completing this story I haven't been able to get anything off the ground successfully. I tried beginning one called 'Same Book, Same Bus', but everything came out sounding so corny and tacky... I really hope this dilemma is amended soon.

I have reached the realisation long ago that my fascination with literature is not academic. At college there were students who were more proficient at it academically than me, but they would never consider reading in their spare time... My necessity to read and write is innate, and I only relent in doing it academically to secure my financial life in the future and to enter university.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

All top 10

Here is the premise of this post: to present my top 10 lists of books and films, which have slight alterations to the versions I have posted in the past. In order to give the uninitiated reader/viewer an inkling of what the book/film is like I won't write a small comment of what the work entails and what I like about it, but I will do something new and different.

For my Top 10 Books, I will take each work out of my bookshelf, open it at random and type up one paragraph from whichever moment in the book I happen to open it at. I read four of the books on this list in Spanish, so I will transcribe the texts in the original language. This list consitst of short story collections in addition to novels. I will also detail what language the book was written in, what country it is from and what year it was written in.

For my top 10 films, I will open up a Google image search and pick one still from a film that I feel captures the zest and vitality of it. I will detail the language it is spoken in, what country produced it and the year it was released.

Here goes....

Top 10 Books

#10 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

Language: English

Country: Ireland

Year: 1917

And while the friends were still standing in tears by the bedside the soul of the sinner was judged. At the last moment of consciousness the whole earthly life passed before the vision of the soul and, ere it had time to reflect, the body had died and the soul stood terrified before the judgement seat. God, who had long been merciful, would then be just. He had long been patient, pleading with the sinful soul, giving it time to repent, sparing it yet awhile. But that time had gone. Time was to sin and to enjoy, time was to scoff at God and at the warnings of His holy church, time was to defy His majesty, to disobey His commands, to hoodwink one's fellowmen, to commit sin after sin and to hide one's corruption from the sight of men. But that time was over. Now it was God's turn: and He was not to be hoodwinked or deceived. Every sin would then come forth from its lurkingplace, the most rebellious against the divine will and the most degrading to our poor corrupt nature, the tiniest imperfection and the most heinous atrocity. What did it avail then to have been a great emperor, a great general, a marvellous inventor the most learned of the learned? All were as one before the judgment seat of God. He would reward the good and punish the wicked. One single instant was enough for the trial of a man's soul. One single instant after the body's death, the soul had been weighed in the balance. The particular judgment was over and the soul had passed to the abode of bliss or to the prison of purgatory or had been hurled howling into hell.

#9 La vida breve (A Brief Life) - Juan Carlos Onetti

Language: Spanish

Country: Uruguay

Year: 1950

Me aparté y retrodecí; recordé que habíá alguien al otro lado de la pared, admití el deber de llamarlo para que viera lo que yo habíá mirado. "Ellos" ya no estaban; habían ocupado totalmente el cuerpo de la Queca en el momento decisivo, gotearon como un sudor después de la muerte, se disolvían ahora mezclados al polvo y la pelusa de los rincones. Pero el aire de la habitación, la libertad y la inocencia, se alzaban como un vapor en el alba, alegres y silenciosos reconocían la forma de mi rostro.

#8 The Unlimited Dream Company - J. G. Ballard

Language: English

Country: United Kingdom

Year: 1979

Later, while I rested in my bedroom above the river, I thought of my third vision that afternoon, of my lordships of the deer. Although I had not eaten for three days I felt gorged and pregnant, not by some false womb in my belly, but by a true pregnancy in which every cell of my flesh, every gland and nerve in my brain, every bone and muscle, was swelling with new life. The thousands of fish crowding the dark water, the lantern-like plumage of the birds in the park also seemed gorged, as if we were all taking part in an invisible reproductive orgy. I felt that we had abandoned our genital organs and were merging together, cell to cell, in the body of the night.

#7 The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster

Language: English

Country: United States

Year: 1987

Unfortunately, the woman's back is turned to Blue, so he can't watch her face as the meal progresses. As he sits there eating his Salisbury steak, he thinks that maybe his first hunch was the right one, that it's a marriage case after all. Blue is already imagining the kind of things he will write in his next report, and it gives him pleasure to contemplate the phrases he will use to describe what he is seeing now. By having another person in the case, he knows that certain decisions have to be made. For example: should he stick with Black or divert his attention to the woman? This could possibly accelerate matters a bit, but at the same time it could mean that Black could be given the chance to slip away from him, perhaps for good. In other words, is the meeting with the woman a smoke-screen or the real thing? Is it a part of the case or not, is it an essential or contingent fact. Blue ponders these questions for a while and concludes that it's too early to tell. Yes, it could be one thing, he tells himself. But it also could be another.

#6 Pedro Páramo - Juan Rulfo

Language: Spanish

Country: Mexico

Year: 1955

"Mi cuerpo se sentía a gusto sobre el calor de la arena. Tenía los ojos cerrados, los brazos abiertos, desdobladas las piernas a la brisa del mar. Y el mar allí enfrente, lejano, dejando apenas restos de espuma en mis pies al subir de la marea..."
- Ahora sí es ella la que habla, Juan Preciado. No se te olvide lo que dice.
"Era temprano. El mar corríá y bajaba en olas. Se desprendía de su espuma y se iba, limpio, con su agua verde, en ondas calladas.
"- En el mar sólo me sé banar desnuda -le dije. Y el me siguió el primer día, desnudo también, fosforescente al salir del mar. No había gaviotas; soló esos pájaros que les dicen 'picos feos', que grunen como si roncaran y que después de que sale el sol desaparecen. Él me siguió el primer díá y se sintió solo, a pesar de estar allí.
"- Es como si fueras un 'pico feo, uno más entre todos -me dijo-. Me gustas más en las noches, cuando estamos los dos en la misma almohada, bajo las sábanas, en la oscuridad.
"Y se fue.
"Volví yo. Volvería siempre. El mar moja mis tobillos y se va; moja mis rodillas, mis muslos; rodea mi cintura con su brazo suave, da vuelta sobre mis senos; se abraza de mi cuello; aprieta mis hombros. Entonces me hundo en él, entera. Me entrego a él en su fuerte batir, en su suave poseer, sin dejar pedazo.
"- Me gusta banarme en el mar - le dije.
"Pero él no le comprende.
"Y al otro día estaba otra vez en el mar, purificándose. Entregándome a sus olas."

#5 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Language: Russian

Country: Russia

Year: 1866

As for Raskolnikov, during all this time he lay on his back, not saying a word, staring intently, though without any reason that was particularly apparent, at the man who had come in. His face, which he had now turned away from the interesting flower on the wallpaper, was extremely pale and displayed an expression of uncommon suffering, as though he had just undergone a painful operation or had, only a moment ago, been released from torture. Gradually, however, the newly arrived gentleman began to occupy more and more of his attention; this state of attention changed to bewilderment, then suspicion and fianlly something that resembled fear. Indeed, when Zosimov, pointing at him, said 'This is Raskolnikov,' he suddenly roused himself in a hurry, leapt upright, sat on the edge of the sofa and in a voice which was almost challenging, but none the less faint and broken, articulated:

#4 Bestiario (Bestiary) - Julio Cortázar

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

Year: 1951

De noche no es tanto, nos ayudan la fatiga y el silencio - porque el rondar de las macuspias escande dulcemente este silencio de la pampa - y a veces dormimos hasta el amanecer y nos despierta un esperanzado sentimiento de mejoríá. Si uno de nosotros salta de la cama antes que el otro, puede ocurrir con todo que asistamos consternados a la repetición de fenómeno Camphora monobromata, pues cree que marcha en una dirección cuando en realidad lo está haciendo en la opuesta. Es terrible, vamos con toda seguridad hacia el bano, y de improviso sentimos en la cara la piel desnuda del espejo alto. Casi siempre lo tomamos de broma, porque hay que pensar en el trabajo que espera y de nada serviría desanimarnos tan pronto. Se buscan los glóbulos, se cumplen sin comentaris ni desalientos las instrucciones del doctor Harbin. (Tal vez en secreto seamos un poco Natrum muriaticum. Tipicamente, un natrum llora, pero nadie debe observarlo. Es triste, es reservado; le gusta la sal).

#3 The Trial - Franz Kafka

Language: German

Country: Check Republic

Year: 1925

But this was not so. The priest examined the lamp instead, turned it up a bit, then turned slowly towards the balaustrade and gripped the squared edge in front with both hands. He stood like this for some time and looked round without moving his head. K. had retreated a considerable distance and was leaning on his elbow against the front row of pews. Dimly he could see somewhere, without being able to tell exactly where, the hunched back of the verger crouching peacefully as if conscious of a task accomplished. What silence in the cathedral now! But K. would have to break it; he had no intention of staying here. If it was the priest's duty to preach at a specified time without regard to circumstances, he could do so. It could be managed without K.'s support, just as K.'s presence would certainly not heighten the effect. So K. slowly put himself in motion, sidled along the pew on tiptoe, came to the centre aisle and walked along without hindrance, disturbed only by the ringing of his cautios steps on the stone floor and by the echo sounding faintly but continuously in regular multiple progression round the vaulted roof. K. felt a little exposed as he walked alone between the empty pews, perhaps observed by the priest; and the church seemed to him to border on the very limits of what was humanly endurable. When he reached the place where he had been sitting he did not stop but snatched at the album he had left there and picked it up. He had almost left the pew area and was almost approaching the open space between this and the entrance doors when he heard the priest's voice for the first time. A powerful, practised voice. How it pierced the expectant cathedral! But it was not directed at a congregation. It was unambiguous and there was no escape; he was calling 'Joseph K.!'

#2 Ficciones (Fictions) - Jorge Luis Borges

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

Year: 1944

Debo esa vanidad casi atroz a una institución que otras republicas ignoran o que obra en ellas de un modo imperfecto y secreto: la lotería. No he indagado su historia; sé que los magos no logran ponerse de acuerdo; sé de sus poderosos propósitos lo que puede saber de la luna el hombre no versadio en astrología. Soy de un país vertiginoso donde la lotería es parte principal de la realidad: hasta el día de hoy, he pensado tan poco en ella como la conducta de los dioses indescifrables o de mi corazón. Ahora, lejos de Babilonia y de sus queridas costrumbres, pienso con algún asombro en la lotería y en las conjeturas blasfemas que en el crepúsculo murmuran los hombres velados.

#1 The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

Language: English

Country: United States

Year: 1929

I laid out two suits of underwear, with socks, shirts, collars and ties, and placed my trunk. I put in everything except my new suit and an old one and two pairs of shoes and two hats, and my books. I carried the books into the sitting-room and stacked them onto the table, the ones I had brought from home and the ones Father said it used to be a gentleman was known by his books; nowadays he is known by the ones he had not returned and locked the trunk and addressed it. The quarter hour sounded. I stopped and listened to it until the chimes ceased.

5 Runners-up: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon; Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner; Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar; The Obscene Bird of Night by José Donoso.

Top 10 Films

#10 Andrei Rublev - Andrei Tarkovsky

Language: Russian

Country: Russia

Year: 1966

#9 The Producers - Mel Brooks

Language: English

Country: United States

Year: 1968

#8 The Second Heimat - Edgar Reitz

Language: German

Country: Germany

Year: 1992
#7 The Big Lebowski - Coen Brothers

Language: English

Country: United States

Year: 1998

#6 The Seventh Seal - Ingmar Bergman

Language: Swedish

Country: Sweden

Year: 1957
#5 A Man Escaped - Robert Bresson

Language: French

Country: France

Year: 1956
#4 Aguirre, the Wrath of God - Werner Herzog

Language: English

Country: Germany

Year: 1971

#3 Alphaville - Jean-Luc Godard

Language: French

Country: France

Year: 1965
#2 Blue Velvet - David Lynch

Language: English

Country: United States

Year: 1986
#1 2001: a Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick

Language: English

Country: United States

Year: 1969

5 Runners-up: The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer; Dr. Strangelove by Stanley Kubrick; La grand illusion by Jean Renoir; Bicycle Theives by Vittorio De Sica; Metropolis by Fritz Lang.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Unconscious Forces in Julio Cortázar's House Taken Over

Here is a small essay I wrote. Most of it was written, sporadically, over the last few hours, although I had started it a couple of weeks ago.

To read 'House Taken Over' in English click here.

If you think you can have a stab at reading it in Spanish, or if you are bilingual, click here.

I make mention of another story called 'Letter to a Young Lady in Paris', but I could not find the text on the internet.

This essay, I must stress, was written purely for entertainment value and was not submitted for any academic course. I have not proof-read it, nor has a lecturer made modifications to it, so it is a bit rough on the edges.


When writing a screenplay for an A2 Film Studies assignment, I chose to make an adaptation of Julio Cortázar’s short story House Taken Over. Prior to commencing writing it, a teaching assistant read the story and said (I am paraphrasing here): “The story is open-ended; you could choose to show what it is that throws them out of the house and what happens when they leave it.”

I think that this completely misses out on the point of the story. What expunges the brother and sister out of their own house is their own dreams, fears and obsessions. In the screenplay I wrote I chose to merge it with another story in the collection Bestiary (1951) entitled Letter to a Young Lady in Paris. The story concerns a young Argentine who is looking after an apartment for a woman who has gone away to Paris; he vomits rabbits when he gets anxious and they mutilate the entire apartment. I added it in as a dream sequence (which was re-titled Letter to a Young Lady Who is Also Asleep) to make more explicit the fact that what throws the brother and sister out of their house are unconscious forces that are latent in the house, and they manifest themselves through these muffled sounds and voices.

After I sent my screenplay to a family relative in Chile, who is a university professor and a Cortázar fanatic, he said that implementing the second story into the script makes it clearer that what throws the brother and sister out the house is indeed their collective unconscious. He also said that it is a symbolic and ambiguous representation of the mysterious forces that inhabit the house. The destruction of the vomiting rabbits, he said, is liberation against a reality that has turned oppressive.

Julio Cortázar was a middle-class Argentine, who came to be a prominent figure in what was to be called el boom, a new wave of Latin-American fiction that erupted in the early 1960s. These texts were characterised by their objective realism; ordinary people find themselves in situations which can be surrealistic or uncanny. This genre was soon to be christened magic realism and it led to re-evaluation of previous generation of novelists soon to be heralded as masters, including Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo and Juan Carlos Onetti.

Cortázar’s role in the Boom was fundamental. The publication of his ambitious novel Hopscotch in 1962 revitalised the literary scene, and the youth of Latin-America became enraptured by it. If 1960s literature was led by the beats in the United States, it was Julio Cortázar who was the most read, admired and discussed author in Latin-America. The popularity of his novel led to an interest in three collections of short stories published in the ‘50s, which had fallen to a silence upon publication: Bestiary (1951), End of the Game (1956) and The Secret Weapons (1959).

The first story in Bestiary is House Taken Over. In this story a brother and a sister live in a large, spacious house and they have an income from a farm, permitting them to wallow in leisure activities. However, menacing sounds appear to emanate from distant rooms and corridors of the house. Eventually, these forces take up the entire house and the unnamed protagonist and his sister Irene are evicted, leaving it in lieu of a new destination.

There is an ambiguity as to what exactly it is that raids their house and evicts them. What is more peculiar is that the characters seem to accept this as it were completely normal; they acquiesce to it, without ever questioning the unusual events.

How is it possible to disentangle this morass of ambiguity and reach an interpretation? Cortázar does imply a great deal in this story, and there is a certain atmosphere that permeates in it which leads me to believe that the raiders of this house aren’t, in fact, people but forces that are implanted in both the house and the characters, alienating them, cornering them and eventually evicting them.

The genesis of the story all the more backs up this viewpoint: its idea came to the author in a dream. Cortázar, in his dream, found himself in a large mansion and was pushed aside from one room to the next until he was evicted from it. He woke up and wrote the story in a single sitting.

Initially, Cortázar sets the story by briefly describing the characters and the house they inhabit. The unnamed narrator and his sister Irene have reached middle age and have never had relationships that have led to marriage: “We ended up thinking, at times, that that [the house] was what had kept us from marrying.” The rest of the house is described and the narrator comments how the ornaments and furniture are covered in dust and that they have neglected this considerable space of the house.

Soon enough, these ‘forces’ make themselves present and the characters huddle to the part of the house they usually frequent. Yes, they are overtaken and disturbed, but try making the situation more tolerable by setting up a new routine. The narrator, with his collection of French literature stranded on the other side of the house, orders a stamp collection, while Irene makes up new patterns for her knitting. The narrator says “It is possible to live without thinking.” However, they are soon so discomforted that these forces that are within them manifest themselves through their dreams.

Cortázar describes in detail the brother and sister’s discomfort while they sleep: “Whenever Irene talked in her sleep, I woke up immediately and stayed awake. I could never get used to this voice from a statue or parrot, a voice that came out of the dreams, not from the throat.” The forces that are present in the house intersect into their dreams or, alternatively, the forces within them intersect into the house. They are clearly anguished by these latent powers, unable to sleep or think clearly.

The collective past of the brother’s and sister’s lives are encapsulated within the house, even to the extent that their belongings, furniture and ornaments come to represent the lives of their ancestors: “It kept the memories of our great-grandparents, our paternal grandfather and the whole of childhood.” Everything about their past life surrounds them, which ultimately leaves them oblivious towards it and they find respite in the quotidian and the mundane: the anonymous character (who shares similarities with the author) spends his days reading French novels while his sister, Irene, knits.

Ultimately, these forces are so overpowering that they appropriate the entire house and the brother and sister are forced to leave. These sounds, even when they come to a closer proximity of the characters, remain indistinct: “You could hear the noises, still muffled but louder, just behind us.” These sounds increase in volume, but cannot be easily distinguished. They take over the part of the house the characters had insulated themselves, and they have no choice but to leave.

Following House Taken Over in Bestiary there is an equally enigmatic and cryptic story, Letter to a Young Lady in Paris. I inserted this story as a dream sequence in my screenplay, which acts as an interconnecting interlude. This epistolary story is a letter to a woman whose house the narrator is looking after. Like the brother and sister in House Taken Over, he is deeply depressed and anguished, resulting in an oppressive manifestation. He vomits rabbits, which then mutilate and deface the entire apartment. In my screenplay, this dream sequence acts as a suggestion of these inner forces within the characters.

Another interpretation of these stories is they are a political allegory of the climate in Argentina at the time of its publication. Peron’s dictatorship was very powerful and had already oppressed many groups and minorities. Cortázar didn’t discard this viewpoint, saying that this political aspect could have had a psychological influence on his dream, although he wasn’t aware of it at the time of writing. His writing, and his political views, in the late 1960s would veer to out-and-out socialism and he would dedicate himself to political activism in the later stages of his life.

The erupting rabbits and the muffled sounds are repressed desires which are, in a warped way, liberations which in turn oppress the characters and leave their surroundings in a state of disfiguration and dilapidation. These forces could stem from political repression, although this is of course entirely ambiguous and entirely up to the reader to decide for him or herself.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Another dark age ahead for Chilean football

Jorge Segovia

The news of this early on in this month was very devastating to me. The Chilean teams voted Jorge Segovia into power of the football association ANFP and ousted the previous leader Harold-Mayne Nichols, leading to the resignation of coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Harold-Mayne Nichols had, even Segovia admits, done an excellent job in charge of the association. He supported smaller clubs to make the national tournament more competitive, inverted money with the television channel CDF and, most importantly, hired Argentinean coach Marcelo Bielsa, who took the national team to heights no-one could have possibly imagined and envisioned.

Nichols was set to take the helm for the next five years, but certain politicians made phone calls to the directive of team Union Espanola, Jorge Segovia, to form an opposition.

The head of the ANFP is voted in by the clubs. The majority of the clubs had feelings of animosity towards Nichols because they perceived him as neglecting the Chilean league in favour of the national team and the teams in the first division, who have a larger percent of the votes, disliked him for supporting the smaller teams. Most crucially, these teams' leaders are oriented to the political right and Nichols, although by no means a leftist, seemed to embody the Chilean political left.

Bielsa refused to work for Segovia and resigned. This is a huge shame as Chile were on the road to even greater achievements, as Bielsa could have built on his tactical flaws and reshaped the team. Before Bielsa took over, Chile had gone through almost ten years of sterility, failing to qualify for two consecutive world cups and with the team in disarray. When Mayne-Nichols controversially appointed Bielsa for a large sum of money, the Argentinean introduced a sense of structure and the team slowly became a full-throttle attacking side that played scintillating football. Eventually, they finished second place in the qualifying round, one point behind Brazil, a tremendous achievement for Chile. In the world cup itself they maintained this level, although they were unlucky to receive a tough draw, been placed in the same group as winners Spain and swiftly eliminated by Brazil in the second round thereafter.

It is absurd how one single person can have such an overwhelming power over football. In England, the FA is run by an institution, not a single person. Segovia has, against the wishes of the fans and supporters, brought about another vicious circle and sown the seeds for another dark age in football. Whoever replaces Bielsa will not be received on good terms by the supporters and will never form a side as distinctive and unique as 'El Loco' did.

Though recently there has been faint glimmer of hope in that Segovia's election, for some technicality, was ruled out as illegal. Hopefully, he will be ousted and someone - Mayne Nichols or anyone who is reasonably competent - can bring Chile and the ANFP back to its feet again.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ipod shuffle #5

1. Miss Ann - Eric Dolphy

Dolphy borders between the most 'far out' possible jazz and the more straightforward free-bob. This track is from the album Far Cry. They play a melody, which is harmonious enough, but the solo, while playing off the melody, isn't in the same key (I don't think). Following Dolphy's saxophone solo, Freddy Hubbard comes in on trumpet, then a piano solo until all the band members solo and play off one another simultaneousl, eventually returning to the title melody again.

2. Speedfreaks - Naked City

Zorn has said in the past that he has a "short attention span". And here, never maintaining any style of music for more than a few milliseconds, he rushes past an unlimited array of music genres, all in the grind style of Napalm Death.

3. The Firebird Suite VI - Igor Stravinsky

This is the final movement of Stravinsky's renowned Firebird piece; here it is part of a smaller and compressed suite. This piece of music is truly beautiful and it has never ceased to exhilarate me. It is the perfect finale for one of the most substantial pieces ever composed. This was his first major work and remains as the Stravinsky work that's most frequently performed. It is also his only piece that is in the 'Romantic' genre, although his concept of 'organised sound' is already present here from the outset in its arrangements.

4. SGNL > 02 - Isis

This Isis track is basically an intermediary track on the album Celestial, connecting the 'proper' songs together. It is an ambient sound that comes across as highly menacing.

5. Scavenger, Invader - The Locust

Also something of an intermediary track. A hideous sound is played on the keyboard again, as the bass stomps in and the incomprehensible vocals shout over them. Again, this acts as a segue between the tracks in the album New Erections, which include the full band playing.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Friday, 12 November 2010

Review #16

Crimes and Misdemeanors - Written and directed by Woody Allen

Straddling between drama and comedy, between sombreness and hope, in this marvelous film Woody Allen interweaves two plot strands, transforming it into a tragicomedy which is wholly his own and the least derivative of the art directors he admires, like Bergman and Fellini. All at the same time as dealing with all things Dostoyevskian.

The 'drama' plot strand is of a ophthalmologist, Judah, who runs a successful practice. However, his adulterous affair with a flight attendant proves to be counterproductive and, if it is discovered, threatens to humiliate his career and status. He is no longer in love with her - he considers the relationship to have been short-lasting and ephemeral - but she constantly tantalises him into giving up his marriage and to live with her. After been constantly harassed by her, he arranges her to be murdered. Throughout the remainder of the film he has the classic existentialist syndrome, where he is in a constant state of trauma and regret for having arranged such a crime. So is there crime? Yes. But there's no punishment.

The 'comedy' strand features the classic Woody Allen neurotic character and a classic example of a Woody Allen romance. Allen plays a documentary film maker who is hired by his highly pompous brother-in-law to direct a venerating profile about him, much to Allen's reluctance. He falls in love with his brother-in-law's associate producer, who has second thoughts about having a relationship due to the termination of her recent marriage. The Allen character's interests do not lie in this profile but in a documentary about a philosopher called 'Levi', who deals with treatises on relationships and love; however, he has difficulty filming it due to lack of funds. The associate producer eventually marries his brother-in-law, which causes him great anguish and is left in a state of perpetual misery at the end of the film.

The first plot strand is the centrepiece of the film and in it Judah, being a non-believing Jew, is flooded with images and remembrances of his Jewish upbringing. The existential issue here is that, whereas he has chosen atheism against the grounded truth he should believe in, he is ridden with bleakness and despair because of the absence of God in his life.

Similarly, in the second strand, the philosopher Levi commits suicide despite his life-affirming views on love and relationships. Levi says that, ultimately, it is the moral choices we make that predetermine our outcome. Yet he chooses to kill himself.

But it is to Allen's credit that, despite the film's pessimistic overtones, the end result is a deeply funny film that leaves one feeling uplifted.