Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Polar opposites in the arts

I have a fairly eclectic interests in the arts, so much so that I may admire two artists who are antagonists in their field. In film, music and literature there can often be two artists whose aesthetics conflict with one another. Followers of these art fields will often 'jump on a bandwagon' and have disdainful feelings against the dilettantes who jump on the bandwagon which is the antithesis of their chosen artist.

In this post I will go through three art fields - literature, music and film - and choose artists who can be divided into two factions. I will then reach a decision as to who I side with and which 'bandwagon' I jump on.

Film

Dichotomy 1: Ingmar Bergman vs. Jean-Luc Godard

This is a really tough decision for me. This dichotomy could be described as 'Snobs' vs. 'Hipsters'. Bergman is more about the human condition and introspection while Godard is all about innovation and breaking new ground.

I do have a soft spot for Godard because his films were one of my first exposures to 'art' cinema, but if I had to side with either of these director, in terms of how their aesthetic has more to do with my outlook on the world, I'd have to choose Bergman.

Bergman does piercing explorations of the human conditions; his interests are existential and philosophical. Godard, on the other hand, especially later on in his career, constructs film essays dealing with political issues. The former's work is more carefully constructed and rooted in theatre whilst Godard is improvisatory and wholly cinematic. Both of them can be self-indulgent: Bergman's films can often be long-winded and obscure while Godard abandons any element of narrative to explore subjects which, often, only make sense and hold meaning to no-one but himself.

Godard's earliest films are, for me, full of vitality and vigour. They can be very exciting. Yet it is still something that works at the surface and, once Anna Karina left him, he veered farther and farther away from his audience, becoming a Maoist. Most of his post-1968 films can often be impenetrable and irritating.

Bergman's films appeal to my sensibilities far more. He produced films of consistent quality throughout his entire career and they have a lot more substance and depth than Godard. I guess that I prefer the 'construction' ethic over 'deconstruction' and, while I do like film-makers to dabble with experimentation, I like it all to be done in a more tightly-disciplined and structured way.

Music

Dichotomy 2: Igor Stravinsky vs. Arnold Schoenberg



These two composers represent two factions the music cognoscenti either aligned themselves to or disparaged in the early 20th century. Allegedly, both composers hated each other.

Both were innovators. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring famously caused scandal on its premier while Schoenberg conceived the twelve-tone technique, a method that attracted as many followers as it did detractors.

Stravinsky adopted three styles of composition throughout his career and they all bear his hallmark of 'organised sound', from a Russian phase, through to Neo-classicism until he eventually adopted the serialist procedures that Schoenberg devised.

I do find Schoenberg's concepts dogmatic and pretentious. I am not musically literate, so I can't come anywhere near in decoding the real worth of his music. Meanwhile, I do think his disciples produced music of worth to me - I have been able to enjoy output from both Webern and Berg. He did devise this procedure for composing that was welcomed by a generation of composers, but he did not use it effectively himself. I have enjoyed the romantic music I've heard by him and Survivor from Auschwitz, however.

I side myself with Stravinsky on this one. The range of his pieces are extraordinary and I find myself hearing his music very frequently. He was able to adapt himself to various forms and styles of composition and produce music that was stimulating to both the music lover and musician.

Literature

Dichotomy 3: Fyodor Dostoyevsky vs. Leo Tolstoy

I'll make this one brief. Both Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are very, very respected 19th century Russian novelists. From what I've encountered from the latter, I've always been inclined to prefer the former. Dostoyevsky dealt with all the existentialist themes that were to be developed in the 20th century; his novels have been very stimulating to me. I tried reading Anna Karenina once, however, and simply had to give up. I prefer the existential questions and dilemmas over family romances and histories; I have found Dostoyevsky to be far more preferable.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Examinations

Today I had a literature exam. It didn't go very well.

What really flusters me is the fact that in the run-up to today I was producing fairly good, coherent practise answers. When it came to the crunch I got blocked up and wrote very little. I will be genuinely amazed if I get a grade higher than a C. And that's precisely what I needed: a low C.

I couldn't get to sleep the night before and, right now, I am in an almost insomniac state. Just before the exam, when I needed to rest, I found myself incapable of sleeping.

In exams it is ideal to assimilate a lot of information and then to carefully organise it in a centred and focused manner. This is particularly true for this A2 exam: you need to write clearly, making sure you answer the question and that you don't go into unrelated tangents.

When it comes to exams these days I become quite obsessive about it, thinking of it constantly. I postpone my main activity, reading novels, in favour of 'revising'. The problem is that I can never revise, procrastinating all of the time, and that costs me in the end. I neither prepare myself for the examination nor do I keep myself occupied with my leisure activities. Nothing but lethargy.

If I fail this exam, which I suspect I will, it will jeopardise my chances of getting into four universities I have already applied for. The problem is that these university courses suit me more academically and, judging by the modules, they will always have something that pulls me back to work. With this A2 Gothic exam, nothing pulls me back to do it because I don't have a particularly strong interest for it.

No matter how well I prepare for the fuckers, it seems that I stumble at the final moment when writing clearly and concisely is a requisite.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Masturbatory cipher


The Big Night Down the Drain (1963) by Georg Baselitz

Friday, 14 January 2011

Captain Beefheart: An appreciation


Following Don Van Vliet's passing the previous month, I have been revisiting and replaying his albums more than ever. The Captain has meant a great deal to me since the age of thirteen, so I felt compelled to write a post commemorating him. I won't write an overview of his career, I will write what his music means to me personally.

Discovering Beefheart at the precociously young age of thirteen was a gateway to a whole realm of possibilities. Without him I wouldn't have discovered the avant-garde in music, literature and film as soon as I did.

In the same sense as football is a hangover from my childhood, the music of Beefheart and Zappa is hangover from my adolescence. That's why I hold it in a special place in my heart.

My first album of his was Trout Mask Replica. I didn't completely understand it initially, playing the orthodox songs like 'Moonlight on Vermont' more frequently. To begin with I liked it because it was 'whacky', jumping on an 'alternative' bandwagon in the process. But I soon unearthed the jostling and unnerving genius in it.

There is nothing like it in 'rock and roll' - not even in the music of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits or The Fall. While many post-punk and alternative bands have cited his influence, their music doesn't really follow in this tradition. It may do so in spirit and attitude, but not musically.

The arrangements and guitar interplay on the album is truly extraordinary. Yes, its conception should be credited to the musicians more than Don, but he imposed this atmosphere upon them that unearthed this very original music. He was able to achieve equally good music with different band while these members have never come anywhere near in matching the vitality and quality of the music in their other endeavours.

He was a tyrant and a manipulator, imposing dictatorial regimes. He was also a compulsive liar, taking all the compositional credit for himself. Yet, paradoxically, this is part of his charm, part of the Beefheart mythos he created.

Like much early 20th century classical music, you have to re-adapt yourself and re-conceive your notions of music. Once you do understand it, everything else sounds tame.

Many people do take it all a little seriously. His lyrics are playful and humorous; they are not attempting to communicate messages on politics, the environment or morals. They should simply be seen on their own terms. He did have a rather idiosyncratic observations on the world and this surfaces through his lyrics.

I watched her cut with clarity
the sea of Satan's red rolling water
that stung my eyes with vile vile brine
and clung to the vine that choked Mary's only Son
God in vain to slaughter
I can't darken your dark cross door no more
the light lovely one with the nothing door
and oh that pours life water

I do feel sorry for the condition he has been in over the last two decades or so. He has suffered from multiple sclerosis, a terrible condition for such a bright and agile mind. His mind has continued to function throughout all these years, but his body shut down.

Having come across a plethora of what I call 'boring fucking cunts', it is pretty startling to think that people as unusual and complex as Don van Vliet have roamed the earth. The world is a little less special without him.

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My top 13 Beefheart records, ordered by personal preference.

1. Trout Mask Replica
2. Lick my Decals Off, Baby
3. Safe As Milk
4. Doc at the Radar Station
5. Bat Chain Puller (Unreleased)
6. Ice Cream for Crow
7. Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
8. The Spotlight Kid
9. Strictly Personal
10. Clear Spot
11. Mirror Man
12. Bluejeans and Moonbeams
13. Unconditionally Guaranteed

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Book shelf statistics

My book collection has gradually amounted over the years and is fairly large for someone my age. I think that, all together, it consists of about 250 titles. I do feel quite frustrated with myself these days because I seem to buy more books than I read whereas, a few years ago, the opposite was true - I read tremendous amounts.

The fun of having a more extensive collection is that you can compile pointless lists and statistics. Below are two lists are, based on my book collection.

Right now I am procrastinating and should be revising. (It's getting scary now; I am resitting this exam and have scarcely done anything for it... In all likelihood I will fail it again. Nevermind, here are the lists...)

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Most nationalities

This list was made by making a note of each author in my collection and from country that author is from. Later I tallied them all up and made this list. The fucking yankies were triumphant by a rather large margin.

What follows is a list of all the countries and, adjacent to them, the number of books in my collection.

Yes, the formatting is a bit dodgy, but that is because I'm inept with computers.

1. USA 55
2. UK 40
3. Argentina 28
4. France 23
5. Chile 13
6. Russia 12
7. Ireland 8
8. Italy 7
9. Mexico 5
10. Poland 4
10. Germany 4
10. Czech Republic 4
10. Japan 4
14. Uruguay 3
14. Perú 3
16. China 2
16. Austria 2
16. Spain 2
19. Colombia 1
19. Hungary 1
19. Portugal 1
19. Belgium 1

It may seem quite surprising that countries like Russia and Germany are lower in the list, but the works of those countries in my collection are more 'canonical' and 'respected' - Dostoyevsky, Thomas Mann, etc. - so it evens out. Also, some of the authors I put as being from countries they were born and grew up in and not what they later nationalised as later. For instance, I put Joseph Conrad as being from Poland, not England, Kafka I considered Czech and not German and I put Nabokov as being a Russian rather than an American writer. Yes, all this is, ultimately, meaningless and unimportant.

Most authors

This is a top 5 list of the most books I have by certain writers. This list is determined by the quantity of these authors on my shelf, not the quality of their writing or a list of favourites.

1. J. G. Ballard 19
2. Julio Cortázar 11
3. Paul Auster 9
4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky 8
5. Jorge Luis Borges 7

Sunday, 2 January 2011

An assessment

Recently I have grown to question the necessity of this blog in my current life, realising that it is not as relevant to my current agenda. I do feel the need to 'blog', but not in such an organised, systematic way, which is what I've tended towards recently. That's why I am writing this assessment, organised under four different headings, dealing with my current situation and what changes will be made to my blog to remedy anything that's unsatisfactory. I will start with an analysis of my previous illness.

My illness

I have reiterated in the past that I have had problems with my mental health, but this occurred over three years ago. Now that a considerable amount of time has elapsed since my episode, I would like to look back and disentangle the truths and falsehoods surrounding it.

First of all, the clinic psychiatrists and my parents seemed to reach the conclusion that my episode was the culmination of several months of excessive reading and overindulgence; they concluded that my brain 'shut down' because of it.

I don't entirely disagree with this, but I don't think it is overtly accurate. While my episode was infused by the rigorous and angrily intense lifestyle I pursued, it was mainly incited by being overexcited and uncontrollably energised. I wasn't overexcited and energised because I was still angry and morose - this 'intense' lifestyle I mentioned before - but because I seemed to have put a halt to this moroseness and anger.

After having put a halt to it, it made me effusively happy - it all seemed to be over. That's when I became uncontrollably energised, stayed up for three nights in succession and entered a psychotic state. This is when I lost control, eventually gaining delusional thoughts and hallucinating.

Contrary to the general consensus others reached on the matter, my episode was triggered by three or four days of deliriousness - not something that kept amounting for months and months. My episode was also triggered by memories of these months and of my childhood, but these rafted into my mind for a three or four day period and caused it.

My current situation

I have gone through college and I'm currently applying to universities. I am far calmer and rational than I was in 2007. Yet I still feel nostalgic about these times because I was creative and there seemed to be quite a lot of vitality in my life, something that dissipated quite a bit after I was discharged. Gradually, I have resolved this; I write and pursue activities frequently, although not as hastily and frenetically as I did in the past.

Now I am in a time of uncertainty in that I do not know whether I will get into four universities and I'm currently seeking a job to finance myself. Additionally, I am pursuing a trip covering the entirety of Chile, which is the equivalent of travelling from Norway to Nigeria, and I don't know how this ambitious undertaking will turn out.

This blog

I have grown to be disenchanted by this blog, but I still feel the need to keep it. The problem is that I I have been keeping it very systematic way recently; when I used this blog in 2007 I updated it whenever I felt the need to update it. That's how I'd like to use it now.

What's more is that I have found that I prefer keeping reflections and meditations about my current life and 'states of mind' through ink and paper. I have started keeping a diary again and I find that it is far more viable and practical to channel all my candid confessions through this.

Yet I still feel a pressing need to write small articles, essays and reviews. This blog will be an outlet for that.

Applications

There won't be eight posts per month any more, nor will I write about my current life and activities. I will use this blog whenever I want to and I will write about subjects that are appealing to me at any given time.