Sunday, 27 January 2008

Bouncing along the trophy cabinet

It seems that artists, writers and musicians strive to create for multifarious (and sometimes apparently contradictory) reasons: to observe, to record, to preserve, to entertain, to celebrate, to challenge, to change, to illuminate ... to live.

Madeline_green_glasgow The Arts are inextricably linked in this respect, but, for me, are linked in many other respects too. It's often the case, when I'm writing, that I'll have either a piece of music in my head, which is shaping the structure of a story and/or the rhythm of its words, or a painting or a piece of sculpture. Sometimes it takes me a while to realise that a piece is actually sitting there with me and that I'm somehow writing to it; however, when I do realise it's there, I know it's time to bring it to the surface through exploring/researching it, in order to understand and accept (or dismiss) its connection. Sometimes, having done this, I have to allow this new knowledge to fully redefine what I'd originally set out to write. It changes everything.

And because writing, for me, is about making worlds out of words, andDod_procter_in_a_strange_land painting with them, and playing with them, and letting them sing and dance and live and die, and about interpreting the world as I see it, and the way humanity reacts and interacts in that world---which is a similar world, I think, to that of painters and directors and composers and choreographers---that's why I particularly enjoy those opportunities which expose me to other ideas and interpretations and methods for communicating these. It's the way that ideas are conveyed in books, music, theatre, dance, art, films, as well as criticism, that gets the words and ideas bouncing for me.

Reading Helen Dunmore's introduction to D.H.Lawrence's novella's The Fox/The Captain's Doll/The Ladybird this weekend might have made me reflect on the way Lawrence used language to present a view of England in the aftermath of the First World War, but it also provoked me into asking myself: What is it I'm trying to say when I'm writing and how am I trying to say it? The process led me towards jotting down a couple of notes for Novel Two that I otherwise might not have arrived at.

Modern_britain_exhibitionIt was also a fitting article to read as I travelled to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne to see an exhibition of 250 paintings and sculptures by British artists, dating from 1900--1960. This was superb---a visual feast, from which I still feel gorged, and which I won't fully digest for some time---but it was essential to buy the catalogue in order to catch up with a lot of the background information that supported the exhibition. Although there were 27 Stanley Spencer's on display, it was the story of his life I found most interesting (and same with L.S.Lowry); whereas the single Francis Bacon painting was stunning in its own right. A couple of my favourites (see above) were Dod Procter's In a strange land, which I've been drawn to since I first saw it about twelve years ago, and Madeline Banksy_wall_and_piece_front_3Green's Glasgow, which I saw for the first time yesterday.

When we left the exhibition, my sister and her partner, who we went with, gave us a copy of Banksy, Wall and Piece (thanks J and M). This, inasmuch as Banksy's street art challenges a notion of art, was similarly fitting and led us in search of a piece which is tucked off Flinders Lane. Two great catalogues that I'll spend some time with, although I especially enjoy the quote on the back of his (click to enlarge):


And three fine examples of his art:

Banksy_woman_with_dustpan_2 Banksy_phonebox Banksy_military_graffiti

And a quote from Banksy to finish with, which, whilst it might be at odds with evidence that over 25,000 people, for example, viewed Roger Fry's exhibition of Manet and the Post-Impressionists during a two month period in the winter of 1910-1911, certainly keeps the ideas bouncing:

Art is not like other culture because its success is not made by its audience. The public fill concert halls and cinemas every day, we read novels by the millions and buy records by the billions. We the people, affect the making and the quality of most of our culture, but not our art.

The Art we look at is made by only a select few. A small group create, promote, purchase, exhibit and decide the success of Art. Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an Art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Favourite words and phrases

Put down the pen, pushed back the keyboard and enjoyed a brief holiday from writing (redrafting novel two, working through a short story, blogging, etc) whilst travelling to Perth and exploring south-west Western Australia recently. But nothing is ever wasted, because such experiences inevitably end up shaping or informing or serving as a backdrop in future projects, to some extent at least. There may be a scene or a smell or a relationship observed or a choice of phrase overheard---it all gets processed in the Factory of the Imagination.

Afremantle_prison_2 Had intended posting a photoblog (or is that a phlog?) with a few choice shots of this magnificent area, but our camera became seriously ill the day before we left, whilst I was crazily snapping away at a friend’s wedding of all things (now recorded through a grainy, pink filter), so I only have a few decent pics. Make that terminally ill. The camera is terminally ill. It has good moments of course, when it’s hard to detect that there’s much wrong with it, but on the Abaobab_drawing_2whole things aren’t looking too good. Literally. It’s on its way out. And perhaps this isn’t too bad in itself, because it’s too easy to replace the patina of memory with a thousand digital images and to end up experiencing life, second-hand, or vicariously, through the lens of a camera.

Went on a guided tour of Fremantle prison (c/o Jim, ex-prison officer), which was in use from 1855-1991, with few modifications. A grim place, Aflame_tree_with_matches_2but plenty of images greedily processed and stored down at the Factory. Was delighted to see young baobab trees in Perth, which looked pretty much as if they’ve been drawn by a child, and which reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (although he treated them a tad unfairly perhaps). And saw flame trees too, and a forest of tingle trees, and some pretty warm sea, and where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, and visited Cape Mentelle vineyard in Margaret River (which we drank a portion of).


This brings me to the cellar door and the subject of favourite words and phrases (a round trip of about 5,400 kilometres).

In the film Donnie Darko (written and directed by Richard Kelly, 2001), the character of Karen Pomeroy (played by Drew Barrymore) says: ‘This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that Cellar Door is the most beautiful.’ The famous linguist in question appears to be J.R.R.Tolkien, and his preference for the phrase has become well known largely because Donnie Darko has acquired cult film status. Discussions of the phrase are well documented.

Cellar door. Hmm, it does have a beautiful fluency to it.

C’est la vie works for me in a similar way, and I sometimes wonder if this is a secondary reason why the artist Marcel Duchamp used it as the surname for his alter-ego Rose Sélavy---other than the value of the word play (Eros That’s life = Love is life).

However, one of my favourite words, not only because of the way it sounds, but because of the way it looks when written is syzygy. It seems such an unlikely word with that close collection of tails, but snaps away from the front of the tongue and the lips like a piece of brittle toffee. I like the meaning it carries too:

  1. (Astron.) conjunction or opposition, esp. of moon with sun.
  2. Pair of connected or correlated things (as in yoked or paired).

Reference: The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary

So, in the absence of having an album of a thousand photos to put together, I thought I’d collect some favourite words and phrases instead. If you have a mind to, send me your own favourites, with the reason why they’re special and, if I receive enough, I'd like to list them in a future post.

To finish, and given the mention of Donnie Darko, thought I’d post the trailer for it, in case you too like films that are little off-beat and feel inclined to view it.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Through a glass darkly?

Books It’s an interesting experience when you revisit anything that you formed an attachment to many years previously---places, people, music, films---but haven’t been in touch with since. Books are no different. My summer reading has been swamped by texts I need to read for work, which isn’t a complaint because it’s an aspect of my job I particularly enjoy, even though I’ve had to relegate a number of other books to the bottom of the pile until I’ve finished. However, with some of these titles, it’s very much a matter of visiting old friends after a long absence and learning to see them in a different light. Unlike people, who have a tendency to change views, affiliations, tastes and the like, I know these old friends haven’t changed at all (not by one dot or comma), although their jacket designs may have been altered once or twice in the interim, and so, if my reading of them is significantly different, what’s really highlighted is the degree to which I’ve changed since I originally met and read them twenty or thirty years previously.

One of the courses I’m preparing for comprises:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger,

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell,

  • Bombshells by Joanna Murray-Smith,

  • Look Both Ways, written and directed by Sarah Watt.

Whilst the other course comprises:

  • The Patron Saint of Eels by Gregory Day,

  • Radiance by Louis Nowra,

  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë,

  • Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov,

  • The Fox/The Captain’s Doll/The Ladybird by D.H.Lawrence,

  • John Donne poems.

I’ve commented on some of these texts in earlier posts and won’t repeat anything here, but five of the above are very old friends and, developing a reading of them now, after a break of a couple of decades or so is illuminating to say the least.

When I first read Catcher as a teenager, for instance, I seem to remember unconditionally admiring the character of Holden Caulfield for what I saw as his willingness to challenge all that was phoney in life regardless of the consequences, whereas now he seems remarkably vulnerable to me. In part, it was the uniqueness of the voice Salinger had given him that enamoured me and short-circuited a broader critical consideration on my part, whereas now I find myself questioning and analysing his strident repetition and assertion of facts, views, opinions, as he seeks to define who is (and why he is) against his abiding grief and sense of ennui and depression. I've become more sympathetic to the experiences that shape his character and explain his outbursts, but less empathetic. If anything, I like him more for being able to recognise the nature of his flaws, and I find him a more likeable flawed narrator than, say, Nick Carraway in F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Found this interesting response to The Catcher in the Rye on YouTube, with captivating soundtrack:

As for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I can’t remember finding the structure quite so awkward or the style quite so plodding when I originally read it and thought it a tremendous gothic mystery, and yet neither can I remember it challenging quite so deliberately and powerfully the dominant views of its era on gender roles and the nature of relationships and marriage and the notion of eternity. I still like the book, but for very different reasons. I recognise and admire the risks Anne Brontë took in writing it far more now than I did first time round.

Sometimes, when walking through a shopping precinct, it’s possible to be caught unawares by the reflection in the plate glass windows of a person who seems to be taking a parallel path. There is something disorientating in the familiarity of their stride and their ability to mimic your movements, but their hair may be greyer or shorter or longer than you thought yours to be, and they may seem older than you thought yourself to be, and in a moment you realise it’s the image of you. In some senses, revisiting a book (or a place, or a film, or a long-unheard album) creates the same impression: it obliges us to admit to ourselves that, against a fixed measure, we have indeed changed, which can be confronting but is often illuminating.

No wonder I’m steaming through this pile of books and am keen to start something brand, spanking new!