Friday, 29 April 2011

Review #22

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino

Even if you don't like this novel, you can't deny it is striking. From the very beginning, it is written in second person, not addressing an acquaintance of any sort but, you, The Reader. You will either become enraptured by it and glue yourself to the pages - like I did - or simply find a completely cold pointless exercise, throwing the book across the room, dismissing it as one of the 'Books You Needn't Read' that Calvino enlists in the first few pages.

Italo Calvino has just published a new book called If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, but The Reader finds out that the copy is faulty. At the bookshop he finds a female reader, Ludmilla, and they exchange numbers. However, each new book he arrives at isn't the one he was hunting, one book leading onto the next, each one confounding you, The Reader.

None of the books bear any relation to one another. Each time you land upon them, you pour over them. They are incredibly fascinating yet stem from completely different genres - satires, travel writing, diary entries, magic realism, Borgesian oddities, even describing a fictional country called Cimmeria. However, each time you become interested in these narratives, you are abruptly interrupted and diverted to new reading material.

Everything becomes deceptive; all fiction seems apocryphal and misconstrued; you chance upon a writer who can get you out of this rut; you end up in a South American country where, once more, you are imprisoned and can't seem to escape from this surreal maze.

The ten books you encounter upon are impeccably written and will leave you with a thirst for more. One of my personal favourites, Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, is paid homage to in 'Around an Empty Grave'. This writer, being the miserable lonely sod that he is, saw himself in the epistolary Kafkaesque 'Leaning from the Steep Slope'. There will be something for you to gorge on, too, Reader, a piece of writing that will resemble one of your personal favourite or resemble your personal life.

I, too, was caught up in this delirious cat-and-mouse game that is If on a Winter's Night a Traveller Reader, and found it to be a true heart-felt, emotionally-involving venture - completely devoid of the cold distant meta-fiction posturing it may be accused of. I couldn't recommend it enough, Reader, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The remote edges #18

These photos caputre my favourite place on earth. I truly felt I had discovered a rare jewel after trundling through an endless profusion of wilderness and encountering this - a true remote edge... Unbeknownst to me there was a shortcut...

On my way to taking these photos I saw another kindred soul - equally unkempt appearance and seemingly awkward - who said "Hi" to me. But I shrugged him off, I'm such a moron.

A lot, a lot of photos this month.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Great pop songs

I have been simplifying some of my listening habits recently by listening to unsophisticated, unadulterated pop. Most of the music I have written about on this blog usually tends to be over-complex, within the genres of classical, jazz and avant-rock. For a change, here is a dose of pop.

Though not all of these songs are, strictly speaking, pop. Though as far as I see it, there is no substantial difference between conventional pop music and conventional rock music: the structure is usually the same.

A frequent criticism that this type of music receives is that it lacks 'ideas', or that it is ephemeral and insubstantial. Well, yes, it is - that's part of the appeal.

Muevan las industrias - Los Prisioneros

El baile de los que sobran - Los Prisioneros

Radioactivity - Kraftwerk

High Tension Line - The Fall

Yolanda - Pablo Milanés

L'anamour - Serge Gainsbourg

Roller Girl - Anna Karina

Les vieux - Jacques Brel

Shipbuilding - Robert Wyatt

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Top 5 coffee brands

Coffee, coffee, coffee. I drink increasingly more of it; almost every day, in fact. If you are susceptible to its effects, then it's not such a good idea to drink so much of it. After having a cup of coffee - especially if it is strong - I will be bouncing off the walls frenetically.

I never drank the stuff before I was at PICU - I simply assumed that I didn't like it. But I was wrong. They gave it to me while I was a patient there and I discovered that I adored the stuff.

Here is a list of my top 5 coffee brands. I usually have a latte when I go to these places - strong and with sugar. I also really like black coffee, but tend to drink that at home.

This list will mean absolutely nothing to you if you don't live in the UK, or if you are not a coffee drinker....

5. Café Nero

This is better than the other major brands - i.e. Costa and Starbucks. But it is still rather boring - it has no flavour. It is basically a stronger equivalent of those pissy-milky-sissy brands. The thing that gravitates me to their cafés is that they are pleasant to sit inside in (much like Costa).

4. Coffee Central

This is only a café in the town I live in, Dronfield, so it is not a brand so to speak. They serve coffee with a really unique flavour that is quite unlike anything else. If you happen to find yourself in Dronfield - chances are that you won't as it is a really boring fucking dump - try the coffee served here. The girls who serve it are cuntish little whores, though.

3. Coffee Nation

This is only served in service stations, but it will knock you out. They provide an 'extra shot' button, which is truly invigorating. Recommended.

2. La Vassa

Proof why foreign coffee brands are superior to those in England. This has recently started to be served at 'Upper Crust' outlets in train stations. It is an Italian make with a sublimely delicious creamy texture.

1. Pumpkin Coffee

I am so pathetic that I even started a Last FM group dedicated to this coffee ( Stimulating, mind-bending and delicious. Whenever I am at a train station I will make an effort to buy one (unless I go for 'La Vassa')...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Top 5 Borges stories

Borges has long been my favourite writer, ever since I began reading fiction seriously. I will never forget the sensation of discovery I felt after scampering through the woods at night, locating a rock opposite a lake and beginning Fictions.

Every Borges story is a challenge. To this day, there are some I can't really get my head around; after reading something like, say, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertuis I can feel my brain aching fervently.

Borges' mythologised worlds of recurrent and cyclical time, of doubles, dreams-within-dreams, rooms filled with sand are without equal in my other reading endeavours.

I think that reading his stories in Spanish far excels the translations. In some cases the lexicon will be too much for me and I'll have to read certain stories in English. But I really do urge you to hunt out the original copies, no matter how poor your mastering of the language is.

In this post I will order my favourite Borges stories into a list. Other Borges stories I really, really like that aren't included here are The Garden of Forking Paths, Funes the Memorious, The Zahir, The Death and the Compass, The Book of Sand and The Other.

Sorry about the different fonts.

5. The Immortal

In London, in the first part of June 1929, the antique dealer Joseph Cartaphilus of Smyrna offered the prince of Lucigne the six volumes in small quarto (1715-20) of Pope's Iliad. The Princess acquired them; on receiving the books, she exchanged a few words with the dealer. He was, she tells us, a wasted and earthen man, with grey eyes and grey beard, of singularly vague features. He could express himself with fluency and ignorance in several languages; in very few minutes, he went from French to English and from English to an enigmatic conjuction of Salonika Spanish and Macao Portuguese. In October the Princess heard from a passenger of the Zeus that Cartaphilus had died at sea while returning to Smyrna, and that he had been buried on the island of Ios. In the last volume of the Iliad she found this manuscript. 3. The Secret Miracle

No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night, no one saw the bamboo canoe sink into the sacred mud, but in a few days there was no one who did not know that the taciturn man came from the South and that his home had been one of those numberless villages upstream in the deeply cleft side of the mountain, where the Zend language has not been contaminated by Greek and where leprosy is infrequent. What is certain is that the grey man kissed the mud, climbed up the bank with pushing aside (probably, without feeling) the blades which were lacerating his flesh, and crawled, nauseated and bloodstained, up to the circular enclosure crowned with a stone tiger or horse, which sometimes was the color of flame and now was that of ashes. This circle was a temple which had been devoured by ancient fires, profaned by the miasmal jungle, and whose god no longer received the homage of men. The stranger stretched himself out beneath the pedestal. He was awakened by the sun high overhead. He was not astonished to find that his wounds had healed; he closed his pallid eyes and slept, not through weakness of flesh but through determination of will. He knew that this temple was the place required for his invincible intent; he knew that the incessant trees had not succeeded in strangling the ruins of another propitious temple downstream which had once belonged to gods now burned and dead; he knew that his immediate obligation was to dream. Toward midnight he was awakened by the inconsolable shriek of a bird. Tracks of bare feet, some figs and a jug warned him that the men of the region had been spying respectfully on his sleep, soliciting his protection or afraid of his magic. He felt a chill of fear, and sought out a sepulchral niche in the dilapidated wall where he concealed himself among unfamiliar leaves.

On the night of March 14, 1939, in an apartment on the Zelternergasse in Prague, Jaromir Hladik, author of the unfinished tragedy The Enemies, of a Vindication of Eternity, and of an inquiry into the indirect Jewish sources of Jakob Boehme, dreamt a long drawn out chess game. The antagonists were not two individuals, but two illustrious families. The contest had begun many centuries before. No one could any longer describe the forgotten prize, but it was rumored that it was enormous and perhaps infinite. The pieces and the chessboard were set up in a secret tower. Jaromir (in his dream) was the first-born of one of the contending families. The hour for the next move, which could not be postponed, struck on all the clocks. The dreamer ran across the sands of a rainy desert - and he could not remember the chessmen or the rules of chess. At this point he awoke. The din of the rain and the clangor of the terrible clocks ceased. A measured unison, sundered by voices of command, arose from the Zelternergasse. Day had dawned, and the armored vanguards of the Third Reich were entering Prague.

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one's fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes. The fact pained me, for I realised that the wide and ceaseless universe was already slipping away from her and that this slight change was the first of an endless series. The universe may change but not me, I thought with a certain sad vanity. I knew that at times my fruitless devotion had annoyed her; now that she was dead, I could devote myself to her memory, without hope but also without humiliation. I recalled that the thirtieth of April was her birthday; on that day to visit her house on Garay Street and pay my respects to her father and to Carlos Argentino Daneri, her first cousin, would be an irreproachable and perhaps unavoidable act of politeness. Once again I would wait in the twilight of the small, cluttered drawing room, once again I would study the details of her many photographs: Beatriz Viterbo in profile and in full colour; Beatriz wearing a mask, during the Carnival of 1921; Beatriz at her First Communion; Beatriz on the day of her wedding to Roberto Alessandri; Beatriz soon after her divorce, at a luncheon at the Turf Club; Beatriz at a seaside resort in Quilmes with Delia San Marco Porcel and Carlos Argentino; Beatriz with the Pekingese lapdog given her by Villegas Haedo; Beatriz, front and three-quarter views, smiling, hand on her chin... I would not be forced, as in the past, to justify my presence with modest offerings of books -- books whose pages I finally learned to cut beforehand, so as not to find out, months later, that they lay around unopened.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Formula writing

I am not spouting out diatribe against formulaic writing here, I am simply writing about my inability to produce writing with strict adherence to formulas.

All the essays I wrote that were successful while I attended college were so because I was following my own line of thought - and the examiners seemed to like that. In the final exam - 'the Gothic' - I stumbled because the answers required definite answers and carefully outlined ideas about what they expect you to write.

And that's something I can never do: write for others. Not only is the concept anathema to me, but I am incapable of doing so. I can pour out ideas and thoughts that I have in my head - which, yes, I want others to read - but I don't have an understanding of how to pander to others by making it appealing, or writing for a specific 'readership'.

I find the idea of 'good writing' absolute bollocks - well-plotted out ideas, clarity, good syntactical constructions. Many publishers put an emphasis on all this and shun originality, meaning that literary establishment gushes out the same material time and time again.

If anything I am deeply envious of people whose writing is more adaptable and flexible; those who can write in a number of registers, styles, genres, etc. That's why my writing is so reiterative and repetitive: I am not capable of writing in a specific style. That's one of the most frequent criticisms I get on the internet: that I re-emphasise points to the point of exhaustion, that I am 'all the same'. I attribute this to my inability to adhere to formulas.

A lecturer I had mentioned that "I am an academic at heart" because of the "range and depth" of my "personal studies and interests." As much as I'd like to agree with this, this isn't true. My work simply has no range; maybe thematically, but not in terms of the writing.

I find that the more emphasis one puts on formulas, the less original material appears. It is those who write what they want, with little regard to predetermined formulas, who end up producing the most innovative work and broaden the horizons of what's possible in literature.