Saturday, January 29, 2011

I've been published in print at last! An article on Bolaño in the Cherwell here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Can reality be transcribed? An attempt to put things into words in florid sentences:

After attempting to find an outfit at the Red Cross charity shop for tonight’s bop, I made my way back to college by way of the walled winding Queen’s Lane. The sun was starting to sink and as the sky was a fading blue and the evening birds sang there was something almost like June in the air. As I passed the walls of Queen’s College, the voice of a heroic tenor erupted from one of the windows. A pause. A few steps later, the voice sang a short run, abruptly descending into a tired sigh. After passing the mysterious place where I think the journal Areté might be (where the letters of Milan Kundera are surely addressed) the unmistakable – though surprising - sound of a chord from a full orchestra.

The suddenness of this chord impressed upon me at once the sense of grasping the depth of something which, almost as soon as it was grasped, was gone. This can only be the case of something which happens suddenly. A chord from an orchestra you expect to hear can hardly unveil the same sense of fleeting possession.

(The orchestra was one with both the stability of the double bass and the serenity of the winds, and the chord it played was a tonic chord in the first inversion. In the event that you are the type of person to run to a piano to try it out, I can imagine that the sound my ears received can be transmitted by means of the internet to anyone with an instrument and the ability to play a tonic chord in its first inversion, with its third so sweetly prominent.)

Another chord succeeded it. Just two perfect chords, which lingered in the lane with the sound of graspable possibility.


HA! How pretentious this all sounds. I promise: this year's New Year's resolution is to write in short sentences. Like Hemingway.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Once on this island

Island literature is so wonderfully stagey. Like the murder in the English village, the island is a self-contained playground for certain fantasies to run wild, and for certain conceits to be explored. I wonder who first discovered the island as the fertile ground to explore themes of civilization and degeneration? For characters to perform as a microcosm (a word I learned when reading Lord of the Flies) for society.

I traced my way to The Island of Dr. Moreau backwards: from LOST, to Bioy Casares’ Invention of Morel, to a lecture on mad doctors and vivisection (from which I learned the term apophane, or, cutting the vocal chords of an animal so that the vivisector will not be bothered by the sounds of pain by the subject under the knife), to a Penguin Classic picked up in George’s best used bookstore.

It was an unnerving and unsafe read: chanting beast-people and scientists with questionable ethics are the only companions this narrator can expect to have on a mysterious island after being rescued from a shipwreck. Moreau, a white-haired scientist who wants to transform his animal subjects into people by his knife and instruction, is attended by Montgomery, a doctor who has taken to drink and is sympathetic to the beast-people.

Prendick, the narrator, sees the beast-people exhibiting worrying signs of atavism, and the reader understands that Moreau only has the upper hand for now. Prendick is unlikeable: his lack of sympathy for the beast-people (and his despising Montgomery for his sympathy) and their animal regression demonstrates a repression and self-loathing. The beast-people are uncomfortably like him, but he is clear to emphasize their otherness. Prendick’s initial vague descriptions of the beast-people as black faced, misshapen servants wearing excited animal expressions easily mirrors the interplay of colonizer and colonized.

For Prendick, the most terrifying discovery of his narrative is how much his own civilization mirrors the beast-people’s society, how much their decay might be our own. The most uneasy part of the narrative for me was the cries of the puma in the room next to Prendick’s as she is being remade. (Moreau does not here make use of apophane.) The day after reading this I went to a craft fair and when a giant Rottweiler happily brushed by, I was unable to stop thinking about what monstrosity Moreau would have turned the dog into, and what sounds it would have made.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blessed Bookstores

A rainy, blustery day, and just after seeing the cottage of my dreams, a brick ivied house in Jericho, potential residence for next year (sadly unlikely), I popped into Oxfam and found the man of my dreams:

I've been thinking about buying this for at least four months. And this copy was only a tenner, not thirty-five pounds. Consolation, in part, for the cottage.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Henry James anticipating Saussure and much of twentieth century literary theory:

'What's language at all but a convention?' said Isabel. 'She has the good taste not to pretend, like some people I've met, to express herself by original signs.'

- Portrait of a Lady

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time flies

Time flies. It’s 2011, Christmas break is over, New Year was beat in with pots and pans and vuvuzelas, and summer was swapped for winter as I left South Africa and returned to Oxford yesterday. Collections (exams on last term’s work) on Friday, and thus to delay study: time for the year’s review:

The Book:
The half of Cultural Amnesia I read (put on hold) and Janet Frame’s Towards Another Summer

The poem:
W.H. Auden – ‘Fall of Rome’

The Film:
Luca Guadagnino’s Io sono l’amore (I am love), soundtrack by John Adams

The T.V. Show:
LOST (tied with Planet Earth)

The Album
Easy, Joanna Newsom

The signposts:

Shi-Shi, the stars

Kristin & Patrick’s wedding

Laura & Jeremy’s wedding (also known as best dance party of 2010)

A move

A surprise adventure

It’s hard to be excited for 2011. Last year felt full of so much promise. This year holds neither promise nor dread; it’s the blankest of blank.

To-night a scrambling decade ends,
And strangers, enemies and friends
Stand once more puzzled underneath
The signpost on the barren heath
Where the rough mountain track divides
To silent valleys on all sides
Endeavouring to decipher what
Is written on it but cannot
Nor guess in what direction lies
The overhanging precipice.

From Auden’s New Year Letter, Part II