Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Constructing a self-made universe

I was watching a documentary on Frank Zappa entitled Pefeeyakto, and world-renown composer/conductor Pierre Boulez appears talking. He mentions that when an artist is "young" he has "the whole world for himself," but says "the deeper you go, the more closed in your own world you are."

I think that it is possible to construct a self-made universe, where one lives one's life in a manner which has little in common with society or the prevailing norm. The more time you spend wallowing within it, the more you accomplish.

One goes through periods of uncertainty in adolescence; you are finding your feet and you haven't yet formed a personal vision. But sooner or later you come to the realisation of a truth and you stick by it. There came a point in my life when I realised I was right all along and that everyone else were cunts.

The more time you spend in this self-constructed universe, the more you develop an authorial voice and signature. One begins to develop an approach which is original and has few precedents. Beethoven or Joyce, for example, excelled in their fields because of their own worlds they inhabited, and produced works which opened up perceptions of what can be defined as art.

A lot of the time, these microcosmic universes are created as a reaction to the oppressive exterior world - it is a form of solace. I think that people trying to 'make a change' in the world are in fact banging their heads on the wall; people that construct these 'self-made universes' actually find tactics to knock it down.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Top 10 writers

As always, this is a personal selection determined by what I've read and is by no means definite. I was grappling and thinking with whether to choose Joyce or Camus as No. 1o, but in the end I went for Camus... Joyce would have beaten Camus in this list if he hadn't written Ulysses or Finnegans Wake.
10

Albert Camus

Existential ciphers discover that the absurd is the essential concept and first truth in his novels... In his novels, nihilism permeates and there are often doomed ends for his characters. Often written written with beautiful simplicity and clarity, his writing poses thought-provoking philosophical questions. In his time he was more famed for his intellect, but is now famed for his image.

Notable works: The Outsider, The Plague, The Fall, The Myth of Sisyphus.
9

Paul Auster


Auster fuses the metric pace of crime thrillers with metaphysical subjects, making this certain genre of fiction - which usually appeals to smaller intellectual audiences - easily accessible and more exciting for the standard literary punter.

His characters are seekers who find themselves under new situations which are coincidences: chance events. They adjust to it in a quest to find answers about themselves: an identity.

Notable works: The New York Trilogy, The Invention of Solitude, Moon Palace.
8

J. G. Ballard


A prescient writer who argued that with the introduction of television and other media, we live in a world of fiction. His fiction explores a dark side to the human condition, where violence and terrorism erupts from the serene comfort of suburbia. He often wrote in a scientific and analytical register about emotive themes like sex, and he often approached logical mechanisms in a highly illogical way.

Notable works: The Drowned World, The Atrocity Exhibition, Vermilion Sands, Crash, Empire of the Sun.
7

Thomas Pynchon


Pynchon draws on a wide range of themes and approaches such as physics, mathematics and pornography and puts them together in this literary brew of pyrotechnics. Sometimes a strain to read and other times approachable, Pynchon certainly is fun even when you don't understand him. His novels appear out of the blue, and they are so allusive and packed with so much in them that they can be studied for a lifetime. A post-modernist who conjures up savage, delirious images.

Notable works: V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow.

6

Juan Rulfo


Capturing the poverty and wretchedness of rural Mexico, Rulfo produced a small but highly powerful body of work. He redefined the possibilities of the Latin-American novel, and he created concepts and ideas later defined as magic realism. His work portrays the remnants of a previous age foreshadowed by the present.

Notable works: The Burning Plain, Pedro Páramo.

5

Franz Kafka

The oppression of mysterious forces stifles these confused and somewhat bureaucratic individuals. Great levels of tension and pathos are shrouded with aura of the mundane. Kafka himself was tormented and troubled himself, often struggling to balance his life as a writer with his work.

Notable works: The Trial, Metamorphosis, The Castle.

4

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Exploring existential themes and issues way ahead of their time, Dostoyevksy's novels are an unbelievably enthralling, exciting and inducing read. He penned the groundings of the modern novel and was the most remarkable Russian novelist and author of the 19th century. His work is full of passion, pathos, intellect, suspense...

Notable works: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Notes From the Underground, The Idiot, Demons.
3

Julio Cortázar


A master of the short story form, Cortázar also produced a few innovative experimental novels that originally defined the possibilities of the form. He sets his writing in realistic situations but then adds fantastical elements which surprise and unsettle the reader. In his stories, characters find themselves subjected to the most unexpected, fantastical situations and accept them as if they were normal, everyday occurrences. All this is written with a mixture of humour, absurdity and the laconic.

Notable works: Bestiary, End of the Game, Hopscotch.

2

William Faulkner

Using elliptical time, Faulkner's novels fracture the narrative and propose a different way of approaching structure. A moral writer, he denounces and cries out against stupidity, cruelty and prejudice. Faulkner writes from many angles at once, and this results in a remarkably complex ,challenging and rewarding read.

Notable works: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom!, Light in August, The Wild Palms, .
1

Jorge Luis Borges


Drawing on his vast pool of literary knowledge, Borges produced short stories of a great strangeness and intricacy. Worlds within worlds, books withing books, labyrinths within labyrinths - Borges encompassed everything ever written within a few pages.

Notable works: Fictions, The Aleph, Universal History of Infamy.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Top 10 albums

10

The Grand Wazoo


Frank Zappa


After been immobilised and subjected to a wheelchair, Zappa forayed into big-band jazz. The arrangements are sublime and akin to Sun Ra; the horns and woodwinds play together yet ignore themselves at the same time. This record contains Frank at his finest as both a composer and improviser, with the orchestrations bearing his quintessential authorial voice and his trademark guitar playing. Other memorable soloists include George Duke and countless other horn/wind players. As well as including all of his comedy and playfulness, the closing track of the album 'Blessed Relief' reveals Zappa at his most tender.
9

Free Jazz

Ornette Coleman



If his previous releases didn't make Ornette's conviction of broadening the horizons of jazz, this marvellous release most certainly did. Alongside Ornette are other star performers like Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry and Charlie Haden. This is the first collective jazz recording with a big set of player. It spawned a number of imitations, but none of them capture the energy and bold innovation of this one.

8

A Love Supreme


John Coltrane

A journey into spirituality by a virtuosic tenor saxophonist. The three sections are perfect, and this record finds Coltrane on the brink of tonality. His masterpiece and musical culmination.

7

Out to Lunch

Eric Dolph
y


Dolphy was master at alto sax, flute and bass clarinet. This record is very entertaining and fun, with unorthodox time signatures and themes as well as inventive improvisation. Despite being entirely instrumental, this is one of the funniest albums ever made.

6

Choirs of the Eye

Kayo Dot



Uniting the visceral shock of the most violent metal with classical arrangements, this album is undoubtedly one of my favourites and one hell of an experience. It slowly evolves and gradually morphs into new musical terrains in a truly original manner and is the complete opposite of Zorn's post-modernism ventures into this approach. So much of this record is so exhilarating and beautiful that it defies description or definition.

5

Dreams

Otomo Yoshihide


Beautifully arranged Japanese pop song incredibly stifled and intervened by the shronk of saxes and white noise. This is Yoshihide at his most approachable and fun. The mammoth track 'Toi Hibiki' is an incredibly beautiful, intense pop song that culminates into saxes playing a melodic line that disintegrates into free jazz dissonance.
4

Hex Enduction Hour


The Fall


Mark E. Smith intended this to be his last album in 1982, and is indeed very messy and disorganised. It is the culmination of The Fall in their abrasive stage before they were to turn to pop. The jagged guitars play the same chords over and over as Smith mumbles incoherently in his distinctive voice. From the stunning opening 'The Classical' to the monotonously mesmeric epic 'Winter', this is The Fall's greatest achievement. Great art by people trying as hardest as they can to not make art.
3

Trout Mask Replica


Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band


Cacophony on the surface, but repeated listening reveal the genius lying beneath the surface. The arrangements are incredibly, and they take lines bashed by a piano and adapt them to lines that wouldn't normally be played by guitar. The drums turn themselves inside out and are centred around the other instruments. And Beefheart's wonderful groan that he shouted against the arrangements without headphones.
2

In A Silent Way

Miles Davis


One of the first jazz albums to take elements from rock, this record returns to the meditative style of such classics like Kind of Blue. The unrestrained, minimalist style builds up and builds up until it eventually erupts. Miles' muted trumpet is sublime, Joe Zawinul's songwriting is incredibly special and John McLaughlin's guitar playing is surprisingly restrained. An overwhelming experience.

1

Rock Bottom

Robert Wyatt

Like the album listed at number 10 on this list, this album was made by an artist finding himself subjected to a wheelchair. And the result is my favourite album of all time. An ethereally beautiful adventure into dream-like soundscapes with oddball lyrics and occasional saxophone squeal.

Friday, 12 March 2010

4 New short stories

Here are my latest four new short stories, and they are a great improvement on the four previous ones... They are quite a drag to type up because the W key doesn't work on my computer anymore... Last time I posted the previous 4 short stories every single apostrophe, hyphen and inverted comma turned into a question mark. This meant that I had to edit it and changge every single symbol back to what it was meant to be like. This happened again when I posted these newer additions this time round, but it seemed to be fixed when I copied them a second time. Sadly, it only appears correctly on my computer because when I checked it on other computers it was all fucked up... If you really, really want to read these short stories you can contact me when I assemble eight copies of my little book Juvenilia: An Unacknowledged Literary Prodigy. I will send it to you if you want a copy, and it will have the proper copies of these short stories. I could format these short stories so that they don't appear fucked up, but I am computer illiterate and I don't know how to do that...

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Dream Stairs

An oneiric work using dream logic and the free-associative structure of dreams... The strength of this story is quite erratic: sometimes it's strong, other times it's weak...

My Wife's Twin

An erotic story about a literary scholar...

Childhood Hallucination

This is, surprisingly, a true story... It is based on an hallucination I experienced around the age of four.

The Land of Dreams

A companion piece to 'Dream Stairs' except that it is far, far stronger. It was inspired by Godard's Alphaville (the female guide is based on Anna Karina). Don't be fooled by the generic title, this story is special...

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Artist of the month #2

Julio Cortázar


"What's on the other side, there where you invite me to jump to but I can't."

Julio Cortázar was born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentine parents abroad on business in 1914. Upon returning to Argentina, his father left their family and Cortázar was raised by his mother. Cortázar was a highly precocious child, reading Jules Verne and many other authors at the age of six. He wrote in his childhood, and when his relatives stumbled across some of his writings they didn't believe they were his. Childhood games are a strong theme in Cortázar's writing, and many of his short stories and themes of his novels are centred around the ideas of children's games.

Cortázar studied at the University of Buenos Aires and taught in secondary schools. He was then later professor of French literature in a few universities. Cortázar had high expectations of himself and was also quite self-critical, so he restrained himself from publishing any juvenile works. He was part of a generation of writers which was eager in publishing their works at an early age, but Cortázar waited until he had obtained what he considered to be his own voice. His first book of short stories was to appear when he was 37 years old.

In opposition to the Peron Regime, Cortázar moved to Paris in 1951 and remained there for the rest of his life. It was around this time when Cortázar worked for UNESCO as a freelance translator, where he translated the complete works of Poe who had a great influence on his writing.

Around 1950 Cortázar published his short story 'House Taken Over' in Jorge Luis Borges' literary magazine Sur. This short story best exemplifies Cortázar's wonderful style: a story will commence in reality, but gradually fantastical elements are introduced which are very unsettling, and the characters accept these as if they were normal, quotidian occurrences. Seven more short stories in addition to this one were collected in Bestiary, which I consider to be his masterpiece. The rest of the stories all follow the same sort of style as 'House Taken Over,' and they are marvelously written; each one is a masterpiece in its own right. In these stories, the characters experience fissures which are 'cracks' in reality that overwhelm the characters and have no relation to their normal, every day life they are accustomed to. What Cortázar has also been attributed in doing is to take the complex, intellectual ideas of Borges and adapt it to sensations of human emotion.

Cortázar kept writing stories and these are collected in books like Final del juego, Las Armas Secretas, Historias de cronopios y de famas and Todos los fuegos el fuego. All these collections consolidate the fact that Cortázar is one of the most important short story writers in any language. Memorable stories in these collections include 'Continuidad de los parques' where a man reading a novel finds out that he is the murderer's victiom of the novel, 'El río' which is an oneiric work about a couple of lovers who drift in and out of each other's dreams, and 'Las babas del diablo'. This story was later adapted to the screen by Antonioni as Blow-up. However, the story that was to take the biggest step forward was 'El persiguidor' ('The Pursuer'). This story follows a jazz saxophonist based on Charlie Parker who seeks relentlessly, but it's not very clear what he seeks. Jazz was of great interest to Cortázar as he himself was an amateur trumpet player, and he compared his use of words to that of an improvising jazz performer. 'The Pursuer,' however, is an important work as it is a blueprint for the character Oliveira in later novel Hopsocth.

Cortázar published his first novel Los premios (which I haven't read yet) in 1960, which is about a group of people who meet together in a cruise across the ocean. His next novel, Hopscotch, was to have an indelible impact on the public. Here Cortázar transgressed the linear, orderly fashion of narrating a novel by giving the reader an option: you can either read it from start to finish, which covers the first two section of the novel, or read it another order which also covers a third section and leaps across many pages in the book. This novel consolidated Cortázar has a leading figure of Latin-American literary boom of the time, which included works by Vargas Llosa, Marquez and others. The novel was revolutionary and struck a cord with the Latin-American youth of the time. It follows an Argentinian character called Oliveira who lives in Paris and is obsessed with a woman called 'La Maga,' and they both wander around the streets of Paris and intellectualise with a circle of friend in a club. The second section follow Oliveira returning to Argentina and living with his friend Traveler and his eccentric partner, who Oliveira finds features of 'La Maga' in. The novel with them ends with them working in a mental asylum, and the characters reach brink on the border of insanity. The third section is supplementary and includes ruminations on the state of the novel and how it can be transgressed. Hopscotch, Cortázar insisted, is about searching endlessly but where no concrete solution is obtained - it only proposes a set of options.

Cortázar followed this with an even more experimental work entitled 62: A Model Kit, which built on an idea proposed in chapter 62 of Hopscotch. It was met with confusion by critics, and divided opinion. This novel once more follows a group of bohemians, but the reader is given less instructions of how to follow the work. This novel is more sombre than his other work, and the humour and tongue-in-cheek style that pervades in much of his other work makes less of an appearance here.

Around the 1960s Cortázar travelled to Cuba, and after his travels there became a socialist. Prior to this he had no interest in politics and he could have been described as apolitical. To make explicit his political conviction, he wrote the novel El libro de Manuel in 1973. With this book Cortázar enraged the right because an author who had once given them apolitcal books had written a novel that didn't satisfy them ideologically. Similarly, the left were dissatisfied with him for writing about the torture carried out by dictatorships.

In his later years Cortázar slowed down his writing productivity and devoted himself to political activism. He helped impoverished countries, and he kept working for socialist causes. In his last ten years he kept publishing short story collections but didn't write any novels. He died of leukemia in 1984.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Review #10

Scott 3 - Scott Walker

Pop icon Scott Walker was idolised by '60s youth, but this didn't seem to satisfy him. He wore dark sunglasses, and increasingly withdrew himself from others. Consequently, his music started deviating from the easy-listen pop sound of the Walker Brothers and started forming a new signature and vision. Scott 3 could be seen as one of his most important albums in that it saw him breaking away from straightforward pop and assembling new arrangements and orchestrations.

Scott 3 was Walker's first album where his own compositions predominated. It was also entirely in 3/4 time, meaning that this estranged his own audience and that his next masterpiece Scott 4 wouldn't even reach the top 10. While it's still far off from the dissonant sound clusters of his latest albums Tilt and The Drift, it still is the work of a radical songwriter searching for new sounds.

The record still fresh today as it never monotonous; it undergoes a series of transitions with interesting chord progressions. The orchestrations are often overblown and bloated, and this sometimes obscures Walker's song writing. But when the arrangements are at their best, it proves to be a stunning piece of work. This is particularly evident in songs like 'Copenhagen' and 'Rosemary,' with the strings melodically uniting and underpinning Walker's crooning voice. 'Big Louise' is noteworthy lyrically as it describes a prostitute's life explicitly for a pop star of the era. 'We Came Through' is arranged like a spaghetti-western Moriconne work, and can be quite exciting to hear. '30th Century Man' is Dylanesque song with Walker unaccompanied on guitar and vocals.

The last three songs are interpretations of Walker's hero Jacques Brel. These are excellent arrangements, and they rank among the best English versions of Brel's work. They are also the highlight of the record. The arrangements imaginatively recapture the essence of Brel's originals, especially a memorable rendition of 'Ne Me Quitte Pas' and the entertaining 'Funeral Tango'.

This record is half-way between the avant-garde experimentation Walker pursued with his latest releases and indebted to the mellow, approachable Pop of the Walker brothers. It is both the embryonic example of an avant-garde composer, and a pop artist distancing himself from convention.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Remote edges postponed

I haven't had any time to photograph the countryside since last October, and I won't be photographing for some time to come. I am therefore postponing this blog regular until July when my A2 examinations and football world cup will be over. I really miss going to my 'remote edges,' but I'll have to leave them aside for now... Also, the last photographs of this post were getting weaker and weaker, but I'll ensure that the quality improves in the forthcoming ones. I'm hoping to photograph some time in spring, though, as it is in this time of the year when these places are rather spectacular to look at.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My state of mind #11

I have fallen in love again, and like every time this happens to me I know it's futile and that it will go nowhere... What's worse is that, unlike the previous girl I took a fancy to, she doesn't notice me in the slightest. I am completely invisible to her. She wears a green coat, has brown hair, squints a lot, and she goes to Costa coffee every Tuesday like me. I won't take the initiative, and if she does start speaking to me she'll probably turn out to be a cunt anyway...

I'm in touch with my 92-year-old great uncle who lives in Chile. He's like an institution, everyone in the family is very fond of him. When he wrote back he said (this isn't the real quotation, just from memory) "Oh, how rude of me, Saimon! Up til now I've made no mention of your fabulous composition of your 'Poetry Reciter'. My problem... Me visualizing Saimon as this un-grown up youth... In extreme contrast to your "April is the cruellest month". I am most perturbed." It does seem that most people, either friends or acquaintances, who don't know me that well do indeed see me as an "un-grown up youth," but seem to change their minds when they discover a lit bit about me. Also, my uncle doesn't appear to have read T.S. Eliot! :)

The cunt students I see in college practically every day have little idea of what I've been through, what my eyes have seen... My episode was a tumultuous, hellish experience I sometimes struggle to remember... The students have no idea that I have gone through experiences they will never see... They ignore this whole latent underworld.

I really want to be completely alone... I had a couple of days off to myself, and I think to myself that if my life were to be like this all the time things would be a lot more productive.

I've been reading Kafka's diaries, and this prompted me to attempt to re-start my diary which I left aside since late October '07. I can never keep a diary when my life follows a routine and is steady; when I got discharged from the psychiatric ward, I found that keeping a diary where life is exhilarating like Kafka's - or even keeping a boring, tame one - impossible. I don't think there'll be more entries in the coming days.

Kafka certainly seems like a person I can strongly relate to, and his life was like the one I'd like to live... His fiction is so mysterious, enigmatic and gripping... Nocturnal nights with constant writing...

I've already finished my four short stories and they may appear on my website soon, although they are often a burden to type up as the W key doesn't work on my laptop anymore.

The earthquake in Chile proved to be terrible news, and Concepción is a catastrophic place at the moment... From what I can gather, because there's no electricity, all acquaintances from that area are ok... Chile will take years to recover from this; the earthquake was 8.8 in richter scale...I received the yearly school book from 2008 of my old Chilean school, and it has profiles of some of the students I went to school with. Apart from one person, none of my old friends are there... One of my old friend's description starts like this: "El Hippie llegó en pre-kinder, durante su infancia siempre pasó inadvertido siendo un nino tranquilo y de un grupo de amigos muy reservados entre ellos su gran amigo gringo S. K."

In the Spanish evening classes, I really enjoy speaking to this geeky, very eccentric Chinese girl in breaks. She certainly seems to like me; she said "I really like you, Simon - you are really amicable." I fear that she has fallen in love with me as she is going to invite me some time soon to a place (she mentioned to me "I'm single")... I'd really like to have her as a friend, though, as she is the only interesting youthful person I see on a regular basis. But there is no FUCKING WAY I'd want to have a relationship with her. This is fucking shit: why are all the girls I fall in love indifferent towards me, but the girls I don't have the slightest bit of interest in take a shine to me? Why?

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For some fucked up reason, the blog posts that have loads of comments on them now say "0 COMMENTS," but when you click on them the comments are there? This seems to be the case for 'Playing the truant: my education', 'Remote edges #9' and 'State of mind #9' FUCKKK.