Of Useless Sports

Based on Oscar Wilde’s concept that “no artist desires to prove anything” and that “the artist can express everything”, I decided to make a tiny and useless experiment (but Mr Wilde also says that “all art is quite useless”). So, extracted like so many teeth sporting disgusting cavities from a previous anti-narrative exercise, here comes the following poem:

round dry full name
red and small seeds
burned into the name
bones at the root
of the road

to drink this water
in the night heart
yellow ashes of stars
long feathers black fire
biting the sun

we gave the name
to moon and stars
blood water smoke trees
kill all that sleep
in the sands

hands knees necks bellies
tongues of dry leaves
this is our will
thus it must be
fingernails biting meat

Yeah, useless and absolutely pointless, in the most arid spirit of postmodernism.

Of Infernal Desires and Oneiric Machines

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
by Angela Carter

I don’t often do book reviews (though this little affirmation is open to debate, since all or most of my academic essays can be said to border on book reviewing), but since the term is over, and I (finally) got the chance to finish reading a most wonderful novel, I’ll indulge in the sweetly perverse pleasures of telling the world about Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”. Firstly, though, I should probably mention that the book is surprisingly hard to come by. Amazon UK lists two different editions of the novel as “not in stock”, though available second hand from different sellers (from admittedly surprisingly low prices). I wasn’t able to find it in book stores for a long time, but I eventually stumbled upon it in Waterstone’s (the one where I found it had only two copies on sale, one of which I purchased; even the cashier pointed out she’d never seen/heard of the novel before, though she liked Angela Carter). This was a bit of a disconcerting situation, since I’d noticed a sustained tendency, as of late, to promote Angela Carter’s writings. So why was/is this particular novel largely overlooked? (Won’t even attempt to answer this question, though; it was simply surprising, that’s all).

The novel in itself is absolutely stunning, the best I’ve read by Angela Carter so far. The plot is woven (and I’ll beg you to excuse my Gothic simile) like an intricate arabesque with interconnecting designs and spread in concentrical circles. It is, in fact, a bit like this, if I may relate to a concrete visual reference. But also, in a sense, like this (yes, I just had to link it to something that’s displayed in a fascinatingly decadent Transylvanian museum). The plot summary, as it appears on the back-cover of my edition (Penguin Books, USA, 1994) goes as follows:

Cut for space

In the Unholy Spirit of Decadence…

I’ve wanted to say this (or, rather, quote this) for a long time now:

I have always really been interested in just one thing: death. Nothing else. I became a human being when, at the age of ten, I saw my grandfather dead, whom at that time I probably loved more than anyone else. It is only since then that I have been a poet, an artist, a thinker. The vast difference which divides the living from the dead, the silence of death, made me realise that I had to do something. I began to write poetry. […] For me, the only thing I have to say, however small an object I am able to grasp, is that I am dying. I have nothing but disdain for those writers who also have something else to say: about social problems, the relationship between men and women, the struggle between races, etc., etc. It sickens my stomach to think of their narrow-mindedness. What superficial work they do, poor things, and how proud they are of it. ~ Dezső Kosztolányi

Of Nostalgia

I guess I’m just becoming oddly nostalgic, but I found this lying around in my virtual drawer, so I felt I had to post it, poor thing. It’s an old-ish poem of mine, which I find I still enjoy.

So Many Memories Ago

Your arms go back so many memories ago,
When the sky was a different shade of blue,
When weeds hadn’t yet grown on graves of void –
You make me wish I was still young,
With rivers sparkling in my hair
And branches growing long and strong
Inside of me.

Your lips go back so many memories ago,
When leaves were red and our eyes were green
And filled with different kinds of songs.
My heart goes, too, so many pastimes back,
To games of chess and flowers,
To filigreed wings on wind.

Back memories and memories ago it was
That this pen here could write on sand
And what it wrote was not a memory.
The words were burning on the waves,
The waves were burning you and me
And waving through our veins became our blood.

That was so many memories ago
And our memories were young and few…

Of Memories and Photographs and More or Less Morbid Thinking

When people go away they vanish, turn to nothing, stop being. They live only in memories, haunting the imagination. We know they go on being somewhere else, but no longer see them, just as we no longer see those who have already passed away. ~ Dezső Kosztolányi, “Skylark”


~ Suzanne Lalique, “Photos de famille” [via Le Divan Fumoir Bohémien via Art inconnu]

To expand on what Dezső Kosztolányi said, it is not only that the people who leave “stop being”, but also vice versa: for the people who leave, those who stay behind, in a way, cease to be, and linger only as painful impressions. And have you ever thought, as I have, that photographs have a kind of remoteness to them, that they somehow possess the uncanny ability of distancing people and places, rather than bringing them closer to here and now? I am certainly not one of those who deplore the modern propensity towards photo shooting – quite the contrary, in fact – but I can’t deny the fact that photos are very much a means of estrangement. Even when candidly taken by loving photographers, even when the subject poses warmly, even then, stuck between the lines of a virtual frame, the photograph delivers a sense of forceful enchaining and lost property. It is what you wish to hold on to, yet it is impossible to do so, for it is long passed – a reminder, yet not a deliverer. This may sound quite a bit awkawrd, but attachment to photographs (which I myself continually display) almost borders on a certain kind of necrophilia, though not as morbid and obsessive. Merely… how to put it? Being in denial on a basic level. Or like taking the skins and furs of a beloved _dead_ pet and stuffing them to eternally capture its perfect likeness. Like the poor taxidermy pony at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, placed right by the entrance, which you can pet and cuddle (respectfully, of course) to its eternal glory. It is beautiful and fascinating and endearing, yet somehow misplaced and obscene. Something marginally tormenting and painful, which we nonetheless need in order to preserve our identity all the better, and, all in all, in order to survive. Somehow. For some reason.

“It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz…”

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

~ Primo Levi, “If This Is a Man”