21 September 2008

I've become pretty much oblivious to the twists and turns of the daily tide of phising/malware spam, but the spectacular appeal to morbid prurience in what's below woke me up.

On Internet forums there appeared messages of a powerful explosion at a United Kingdom nuclear power station located in the suburbs of London.. According to witnesses’ statements the explosion happened at about 3 pm on the 9th of September. In particular, one resident of this town has made a call and had time to inform her relatives that connection in the town was being cut off in order not to let people phone somebody. She insists that the explosion really took place at the nuclear power station, and that it was a really powerful one, and now the radiation cloud is moving.This information is being unofficially confirmed in public agents’ private conversations.

Besides, local residents place pictures of the explosion consequences and victims’ bodies in their blogs.
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Precise Woodstock

20 September 2008

I went to Vienna to do a lecture in TQW's great Precise Woodstock of Thinking series – 50 lectures over ten days by a collection of usual and not-usual suspects on the topic of The Future of Dance and Performance. Writing the lecture was a bit of a torture, and led to at least a couple of days of my recent time in New York being consumed in curses. I found an angle I could work in the end though (the process of finding perhaps relates a bit to what I wrote here about performing Quizoola!) and I was more than happy with the result. My general line was to doubt the past, to suspect the imagined capacity and mock the vanity of our hold on the future and to focus instead, on the present, presentness, now. This from the lecture, not the end, but heading in that general direction.

Language. I love words in a room, in the space between persons. This room, the one we are in now. Words that bring us closer, you and I, you and they, and those which force us all apart. Language for performance is that maybe – not so much a matter of writing, as one of speaking. Speaking is always bodied, provisional, temporal. Always performance. Now.
She speaks. And could stop speaking. Could be made to stop speaking. Could fail in speaking. That perhaps is a glimpse at the vulnerable the heart of performance. That it could stop. No book is going to stop. Movies rarely do these days. Few sculptures stop. And yes, the internet jams, the computer freezes but that’s another matter I think. But performance – performance can always just drop dead there right in front of your eyes, clam up, fall over, dissolve and that fact is written all though it, all over it, no matter how much denied. Now I am talking about frailty not language. But perhaps those two are more connected than I thought.
Words I wanted to write about. The failure of them – the struggle of them, the always present attempt to arrange them, to line them up, here now, in the here and now, in such a way that they make something happen, the fight or flight in the mouth and the brain to make sense with/of them, words. The constant stumbles in language, the digressions, the sudden energies of excitement – the sudden clarification of a purpose, the finding of an idea – and the subsequent lostness, vagueness, the fracture of hesitation, faltering, the hysteria as you or I and these words lose their way.
Words I wanted to write you about. How they summon things into the room, imagined presences, scenes, images. The complicity of those moments in which we hear something and make it happen in our minds eye. The way that words work make and surf the now, pulling us closer, forcing us apart, unfolding. No past and no future, each new word in the sentence always the same word in fact, always now, now, now.


Also in the Vienna Woodstock my friend Christine Peters made a lecture, in which she quoted a letter from Buckminster Fuller included in his book Critical Path, (1981) . Fuller wrote the letter to a ten year old boy, who'd written to him asking about "thinking and doing". The letter goes like this:
Dear Michael,
Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning "thinkers and doers."

The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.

Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely interested in. Don't be disappointed if something doesn't work. That is what you want to know — the truth about everything — and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite non-working elements embraced by their system.             

Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar, find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools — and once you have learned how to use a tool you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.             

You have what is most important in life — initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.

Sincerely yours,

Buckminster Fuller, February 16, 1970

Short Stories – Portland/New York

19 September 2008

In the brief cross town car ride M. mentioned she was going to China soon. Did she speak Chinese? Yes she said. She'd lived there five years. How come? Oh she'd passed through Shangahi when travelling, age 19, and somehow got stuck there, waitressing, trying to save money for a ticket home. Five years. We turned a corner, the traffic got complicated. J. said it reminded him of a song. About a piano player. Also trying to get home. Could not remember who by. We thought Tom Waits. M. agreed, still focused on the driving. We never found out more about Shanghai or what had happened there.

Over coffee next day R. said he'd grown up in Houston, a NASA kid. His dad was a NASA engineer. Doing what exactly? Turned out his dad ran one of the teams charged with bringing the crippled Apollo 13 back to Earth. Calculating orbits to swing the ship around the moon. 1000s of calculations all done by hand since no computers big or fast enough back then. His dad got a Presidential Medal. J was two years old. 1973. I knew the year already cos as a kid I'd watched the whole thing from England in black and white. Those static voices don't go away. Those pensive men in shirts and ties at desks, staring at screens. It was a weird loop of time – or more some strange shift of proxemical relation to those event – to be sat there in diner with R, eating pancakes, discussing the part his dad played in all that.

Walking from the apartment each morning V. and I are conisseurs of the day. Stepping out of the air con for the first time we are like "nice" or "yeah not bad" – savoring the air – or "really hideous" or "too close" or "not so bad as yesterday" – offering up our opinions all the way along the street, like trigger happy wine tasters, experts of the summer or something, until at the end, past the garage and the empty lot haven of rats, of it we've reached a kind of consensus.

Dream Objects

16 September 2008
Quizoola! - Jim Fletcher and Kent Beeson

Last week I was with Jim Fletcher and Kent Beeson in Portland for performances at PICA’s wonderful TBA festival curated (for the last time) by Mark Russell. Jim performed the monologue Sight Is The Sense… and Kent joined us for a run at the 6 hour Forced Entertainment  improvised questions and answers performace Quizoola!. Here’s something I was writing yesterday, about one particular part of the latter.

In response to the question ‘Which objects have appeared in your dreams?’ Jim starts with naming a few things, going slowly from gun, houses, cars and rivers, to stairwells, doors, seas. At first I think I am going to cut him off, but I’m tired and so far as I can tell I miss the moment for that. Half a minute later I change tactics, look down to make a joke that I am going to go through the papers looking for more questions as he continues – as if his answer of no interest. Standard tactics. Do that for a while, as he’s still working away on his list. Bit later I look back up from the papers, and watch him – Jim’s eyes focused in middle distance as he continues to talk. I’m smiling a bit as I am watching him I think, enjoying the care and attention and self-absorption he has as he does that, despite the earlier display I made of mock indifference or impatience. There are many moments in the performance of Quizoola! where you try one thing, and then a few seconds or a minute or two later you try something else, a mild kind of ‘cycling the possible responses’, scratching the surface of things, looking for something you can use or work with more substantially. You’re naked in this process – I guess everyone can see that you’re hesitant, unsure. It’s OK. Nothing comes in any case. I watch him, he keeps listing – more objects that have appeared in his dreams. Paper, books, glasses, a mirror, roads, a suitcase. I look out at the people watching. I look out. People seem happy enough listening. It’s a kind of break from the back and forth of the Q&A, doesn’t need the same energy. The room seems very still. I keep thinking that I’m going to stop him. But, looking down at the papers again now I don’t know when to do so, or how and I’m aware that a kind of hole has appeared in the performance. A landmark feature of a negative kind, a black hole. Knives, trees, boats, dogs, bags, tables. He keeps listing. As he goes I’m half listening, but I guess I’m also more or less focused on thinking of ways out of this situation, my mind erratically scratching around in the dust and dirt of the moment, looking for ‘a good idea’, a question to ask – a way out. It’s possible to think of diving in with a question that would scold him for taking so much time and space with this – Do you think people want to know all this stuff? Are you afraid of being boring? – but nothing of that sort seems quite right and I let it pass. Mostly I’m full of inertia, faintly sad in a way, as he’s listing all those banal objects and we’re all sat there listening. Now – with a distance of some days and some thousands of miles – I’m not even quite sure how I stopped him in the end. It wasn’t a put down for sure.. I used that later, a few questions further in, rounding on him for taking so much time with his dreams. But at the end of the listing thing itself I just don’t remember how I stopped Jim and moved on to another question. Strange process of the Quizoola! performance – that you are so focused on the momentary interaction you are trying to make, but so endlessly, so serially, that they start to blur and erase each other. Every moment is a decision or a change moment, part of a flow maybe, something you can intuit for sure, but nonetheless each and every moment is a crossroads, a chance you have to take or not take. – Afterwards, overhelmed by the sheer accumulation of these decisions, so much of what you have done is lost to you, work buried in it’s own dust, ceilings collapsing but you don’t know who’s in there. Later, in the bar you can’t even remember what you did, what you said, what led from one thing to another. It’s gone.

More Dead

4 September 2008

More great quotes on the dead over in the comments at Mike Harrison’s Ambiente Hotel blog.

First Chiles Samaniego guessing which quote Mike was thinking about back here:

[…] the longer I think about it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision.

And then Mike himself following up my comment with this one:

“…Evan told tales of the dead… who knew they had been cheated of what was due to them and tried to return to life. If you had an eye for them they were to be seen quite often, said Evan. At first glance they seemed to be normal people, but when you looked more closely their faces would blur or flicker slightly at the edges. And they were usually a little shorter than they had been in life…” [p74/5, Mike’s ellipses.]

The reverse perspective in the first is so beautiful. And in the second it’s the banality that’s great. That the dead are “usually a little shorter than they had been in life” is laugh out loud funny I think. Reminded me of an old line I wrote but (so far as I recall) never yet used – that radio broadcasts from beyond the grave had been picked up, but that it was mostly nothing remarkable, mainly gardening programmes.


And above, weird (and extremely scary) kind-of empty stage at the Republican Convention during a video tribute to Cindy McCain.

Drawing Pretty Much in the Darkness

2 September 2008

Barbara Campbell wrote me about the recent posts concerning butterflies, ghosts et al.

Just read the ghost threads on your blog – on this evening just after I’ve finished my last experimental drawing class with my dear first years. I like to save “drawing and disappearance” for last. They like it. I start to use words like “composition” for one thing and that sounds like art. And they do a series of drawings where the room appears from around their easels and after each drawing I block out another window until after half an hour or so they’re drawing pretty much in the darkness which makes them go nice and quiet. And they’re erasing and effacing and pretty soon the ghosts start to appear from the little bits of white paper that have somehow remained untouched from all that graphite and charcoal and energy.

Relpying to B. I remembered this picture I took in Italy back in July –  my own latenight reflection in a building opposite the appartment we stayed in – 75m away I guess, a night with hardly a moon. I like that experience when your own reflection seems alien, distant. A blurred other world.

Self Portrait

More Butterfly

31 August 2008

Nice mail from Robert Cook following my Butterfly post some days back:

Your post… struck a memory, and I thought you might be interested. Something I wrote a few years ago, about something a lot further back:

‘Once, when I was young, I killed a butterfly. I was a knight wielding a mighty headless broom in defence of my Mum’s garden realm, or perhaps a wizard damning demons with a flourish of my magical WonderClean wand. Or maybe I was just a kid with a stick in a suburban backyard. I don’t want to remember those details, because details can blur the shape of a memory, and the memory as it stands is clear and perfect. The butterfly’s muted white crazy-dance, the aimless insect sublime jittering over my head. The abrupt cessation of fantasy at the same precise moment as a decision made by instinct and executed before I had even registered that I was no longer playing. The uncalculated millimetre accurate strike, the downward arc, the small precise thack of termination. The body in the grass.’

Since that murderous moment I’ve regarded butterflies as something almost divine (and I’m atheist, or at least irreligious). Guilt, obviously, but also a reframing, a genuine change of thought pattern based on something I had done and that was not undoable. The irrevocability of an act that leads to the lifting of a veil. Or something. Anyway, I didn’t know before about the belief that a butterfly signifies a visit from the departed. Is the belief that the butterfly is the actual visitor, or a sign of the visitor? I only ask because I know that I killed that butterfly not long after my father had died. (Bear in mind this is 25 years ago – I’m not on a guilt cruise or losing my marbles or anything, just trying to expand the contours of my own past experience…

More from Robert over at his blog Observer Error.


Over at his Ambiente Hotel blog meanwhile Mike Harrison pulls out the most startling quote from the intro to a new edition of T.M. Wright’s A Manhattan Ghost Story. Says Mike:

Here’s Wright on the dead (to add to WG Sebald on the dead) –

“.. you are allowed to know them and to see them, but not well, not at all well, only as well as you see the living.”

Read that a couple of days ago and I’m still shaking my head at the beauty of it.