Tuesday, March 31, 2009

William, it was really nothing

video



The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
This town has dragged you down
Oh, the rain falls hard on a humdrum town
This town has dragged you down
Oh, no, and everybody's got to live their life
And God knows I've got to live mine
God knows I've got to live mine
William, William it was really nothing
William, William it was really nothing
It was your life ...

How can you stay with a fat girl who'll say :
"Oh ! Would you like to marry me ?
"And if you like you can buy the ring"
She doesn't care about anything
Would you like to marry me ?
And if you like you can buy the ring
I don't dream about anyone - except myself
Oh, William, William it was really nothing
William, William


The Smiths


Monday, March 30, 2009

hand in glove...

video



Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
No, it's not like any other love
This one is different - because it's us

Hand in glove
We can go wherever we please
And everything depends upon
How near you stand to me

And if the people stare
Then the people stare
Oh, I really don't know and I really don't care

Hand in glove
The good people laugh
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we've something they'll never have

Hand in glove
The sun shines out of our behinds
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we've something they'll never have

And if the people stare
Then the people stare
Oh, I really don't know and I really don't care

So, hand in glove I stake my claim
I'll fight to the last breath

If they dare touch a hair on your head
I'll fight to the last breath

For the good life is out there somewhere
So stay on my arm, you little charmer

But I know my luck too well
Yes, I know my luck too well
And I'll probably never see you again
I'll probably never see you again
I'll probably never see you again
Oh ...


The Smiths

Sunday, March 29, 2009

there is a light and it never goes out...

video



Take me out tonight
Where there's music and there's people
And they're young and alive
Driving in your car
I never never want to go home
Because I haven't got one
Anymore

Take me out tonight
Because I want to see people and I
Want to see life
Driving in your car
Oh, please don't drop me home
Because it's not my home, it's their
Home, and I'm welcome no more

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine

Take me out tonight
Take me anywhere, I don't care
I don't care, I don't care
And in the darkened underpass
I thought Oh God, my chance has come at last
(But then a strange fear gripped me and I
Just couldn't ask)

Take me out tonight
Oh, take me anywhere, I don't care
I don't care, I don't care
Driving in your car
I never never want to go home
Because I haven't got one, da ...
Oh, I haven't got one

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine

Oh, There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out
There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out



The Smiths / Lyrics by Morrissey


beautiful boys will be beautiful boys (2)...

video


Handsome Devil

All the streets are crammed with things
Eager to be held
I know what hands are for
And I'd like to help myself
You ask me the time
But I sense something more
And I would like to give you
What I think you're asking for
You handsome devil
Oh, you handsome devil

Let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head
On the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say

I crack the whip
And you skip
But you deserve it
You deserve it, deserve it, deserve it

A boy in the bush
Is worth two in the hand
I think I can help you get through your exams
Oh, you handsome devil

Oh, let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head
On the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say

I crack the whip
And you skip
But you deserve it
You deserve it, deserve it, deserve it

And when we're in your scholarly room
Who will swallow whom ?
When we're in your scholarly room
Who will swallow whom ?
You handsome devil

Oh, let me get my hands
On your mammary glands
And let me get your head
On the conjugal bed
I say, I say, I say

There's more to life than books, you know
But not much more
Oh, there's more to life than books, you know
But not much more, not much more
Oh, you handsome devil
Oh, you handsome devil
Ow !


The Smiths / Lyrics by Morrissey


Saturday, March 28, 2009

the boy with the thorn in his side

video


Listening to Morrissey's latest album has brought back fond memories of The Smiths, to which I used to listen compulsively in my late teens. I was not much aware of this at the time, but it was mainly the sexual obliqueness and ambiguity of their lyrics and performances that gripped (and still do, I guess) so many of us - an ambiguity continuously fed by Morrissey's refusal to accept petty, worn-out labels.
I'm not sure what to make of the title of this late album, Years of Refusal, of its campy cover and desperately sad, lonely effusiveness. Whatever the case, songs like "Hand in Glove", "Handsome Devil", "Shoplifters of the World Unite", "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" or this all-time favourite of mine, "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side", will continue to move and mesmerise with their ambivalence, their openness to all interpretations and inclinations.


The boy with the thorn in his side
Behind the hatred there lies
A murderous desire for love
How can they look into my eyes
And still they don't believe me ?
How can they hear me say those words
Still they don't believe me ?
And if they don't believe me now
Will they ever believe me ?
And if they don't believe me now
Will they ever, they ever, believe me ?
Oh no ...
Oh ...

The boy with the thorn in his side
Behind the hatred there lies
A plundering desire for love
How can they see the love in our eyes
And still they don't believe us ?
And after all this time,
They don't want to believe us
And if they don't believe us now
Will they ever believe us ?
And when you want to live
How do you start ?
Where do you go ?
Who do you need to know ?
Oh no no no ...


Oh ...
Oh no ...
Oh ...
La ...



The Smiths / Lyrics by Morrissey


Friday, March 27, 2009

I'm throwing my arms around Paris...

video



In the absence of your love
And in the absence of human touch
I have decided I’m throwing my arms around
around Paris because only stone and steel
accept my love

In the absence of your smiling face
I travelled all over the place
and I have decided
I’m throwing my arms around
around Paris because only stone and steel
accept my love
I’m throwing my arms around
around Paris because only stone and steel
accept my love

I’m throwing my arms around
Paris because nobody wants my love
Nobody wants my love
Nobody needs my love
Nobody wants my love
Yes, you made yourself plain
Yes, you made yourself very plain


Lyrics by Morrissey, from the album Years of Refusal



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Under here


video


Have just discovered, on another blog, that this video I've been seeking for ages is finally available on YouTube. A mesmerising song on the lovable, translucent, dark, terrifying liquid realm to which those who desire someone always feel compelled to return.


Little Water Song

Under here, you just take my breath away
Under here, the water flows over my head
I can hear the little fishes

Under here whispering your most terrible name
Under here, they've given me starfish for eyes
And your head is a big red balloon

Under here, your huge hand is heavy on my chest
Ah, and under here, Sir, your lovely voice retreats
And yes, you take my breath away

Look at my hair, as it waves and waves
Sir, under here, I have such pretty hair
Silver, it is, and filled with silver bubbles

Ah, and under here, my blood will be a cloud
And under here my dreams are made of water
And, Sir, you just take my breath away

For under here, my pretty breasts are piled high
With stones and I cannot breathe
And tiny little fishes enter me

Under here, I am made ready
And under here, I am washed clean
And I glow with the greatness of my hate for you



Lyrics by Nick Cave
Performed by Ute Lemper

Monday, March 23, 2009

hieroglyphs in the wilderness

A few weeks ago I visited Kiyoshi Awazu's wonderful retrospective, Re-Reproduction, at the Kawasaki City Museum. Ever since I saw Awazu's graphic design work for the first time, I have been intrigued by his fixation on two ambiguous female faces, which he has endlessly reproduced and, at times, juxtaposed: Leonardo's Mona Lisa and the (in)famous Sada Abe. To those unfamiliar with the latter: in the mid-1930s, Sada erotically asphyxiated her lover, Kichizo Ishida, during one of their sex marathons, and then cut off his penis and testicles, carrying them around in her handbag for a couple of days, until she turned herself down to the the police in Tokyo. The story became known in the West through Nagisa Oshima's film version Ai no Korida / In the Realm of the Senses (No Império dos Sentidos, in Portuguese), even though the story has been the object of various other film adaptations in Japan.
Reverting to Awazu (and to the artists and philosophers who have been interested in both myths, for that matter): what might explain such male fascination with the blank, ungraspable facial expressions of these female sexual personae?

Once again, Camille Paglia suggests a provocative line of interpretation. A feminist with brass balls, no doubt!


Leonardo's Mona Lisa is the premiere sexual persona of western art. She is the Renaissance Nefertiti, eternally watching. She is unnervingly placid. The most beautiful woman, making herself a perfect stillness, will always turn Gorgon. I spoke of the Mona Lisa as Leonardo's apotropaion, his household charm of warding-off [evil]. She is an ambassador from primeval times, when earth was a desert inhospitable to man. She presides over a landscape of raw rock and water. The distant river's snaky meander is the elusiveness of her cold daemonic heart. Her figure is a stable female delta, a perceptual pyramid topped with the mystic eye. But the background is deceptive and incoherent. The mismatched horizon lines, which one rarely notices at first, are subliminally disorienting. They are the unbalanced scales of an archetypal world without law or justice. Mona Lisa's famous smile is a thin mouth receding into shadow. Her expression, like her puffy eyes, is hooded. The egglike headwith its enormous plucked brow seems to pillow on the abundant, self-embraced Italian bosom. What is Mona Lisa thinking? Nothing, of course. She is Zeus, Leda, and egg rolled into one, another hermaphrodite deity pleasuring herself into mere being. Walter Pater is to call her a "vampire", coasting through history on her secret tasks. Despite many satires, the Mona Lisa will remain the world's most famous painting. Supreme western works of art [...] preserve their indeterminacy through all interpretation. They are morally ungraspable. Even the Venus de Milo gained everything by losing her arms. Mona Lisa looks through us and passively accepts our admiration as her due. Some say she is pregnant. If so, she radiates the solipsism of woman gloating over her own creation. The picture combines fleshy amplitude, emotional obliqueness, and earthly devastation. Leonardo has drawn mother nature from life.
[...]
Mona Lisa's ambiguous smile is a hieroglyph symbolizing the link between Leonardo's sexual personae and their enshrouding atmosphere, a strange light which is their own stormy inner weather. [...] So Leonardo's smile is androgynous, a sexual hex sign.
[...]
Freud traces the mysterious smile to Leonardo's buried memory of the lost biological mother preceding his adoptive mother, the two women of The Virgin with St. Anne. Freud connects the painting to Leonardo's childhood dream of a bird of prey, the hermaphroditic Egyptian vulture goddess. [...] I trace the smile all the way back through Botticelli to Donatello and find it amoral, solipsistic and gender-crossing from the start.
[...]
But as the grotesque landscape shows, this is no celebration of female power. Like Michelangelo, Leonardo finds the condition of male servitude intolerable, and rightly so.


Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 154-56.


Image source for Kiyoshi Awazu's Portrait of a Woman (1977): the website of the 21st Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan.

Monday, March 16, 2009

beautiful boys will be beautiful boys...

As has become evident in the last posts, I have been re-reading a book I adore and hate at the same time, Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae. That is to say: I hate to have to agree with her most of the time, as I do, and would love to disagree with her more often, as I don't, alas (well, maybe it's my Mediterranean-Catholic upbringing, and subsequent pagan atheism ";o), that compel me to agree with her). No wonder she has managed to enrage so many feminists, gays, lesbians et alia over the years. Feminist fatale, feminist with balls, anti-feminist or lesbo barbata are all monikers that fail to do justice to her untamable political incorrectness and freethinking queerness.

Here is a favourite passage - incidentally, one of Paglia's tenets that has fuelled more controversy (I vividly recommend this interview with the author, a propos) - on the Greco-Roman tradition of the beautiful boy nude and the homoerotic imagination that soaks western art through and through.


Donatello's David [is] the first truly free-standing sculpture since the fall of Rome. Blatantly homosexual in inspiration, it shows David standing victorious over the severed head of Goliath, which he tramples underfoot. The story of David and Golliath [...] would become a political symbol of Florentine resistance to tyranny. Donatello's David is astonishingly young [...]. The hand on hip and cocked knee create an air of sexual solicitation. From the side, one is struck by the peachy buttocks, bony shoulderblades, and petulantly protruding boy-belly. The combination of child's physique with female body language is perverse and pederastic. Michelangelo is to adopt this erotic formula for his more athletic nudes, where it becomes overtly sadomasochistic.

For H. W. Janson, Donatello's David is "strangely androgynous," "le beau garçon sans merci, conscious only of his own sensuous beauty." [...] David has long feminine locks of hair, tangled with ribbons, and a splendidly raffished wreathed hat, a version of the traveller's hat of Hermes Psychopompos. But here is no traveller's cloak, only exquisitely etched leather buskins. A pornographic trope: the half-dressed is more erotic than the totally nude. [...]

I think Donatello's David, even more than the ancient Venus Pudica, was the true model for Boticelli's Venus. David, fusing Venus and Mars, skims into view on a swirl of the dreaming artist's fantasy, half spasmodic relief, half rising sigh. The David's shimmery, slithery bronze is a frozen wet dream, an Apollonian petrification. It is also a portrait of the artist, whose oppressed face appears like a signature at the bottom, another homoerotic motif borrowed by Michelangelo. [...]

David's brazen nudity is the impermeability of western personality. His compact frame is supercondensed by the aggressive western eye. He is personality as sex and power.

The beautiful boy is homosexuality's greatest contribution to western culture. Un-christian and anti-Christian, he is an iconic formalization of the relation between the eye and reality. Repeated in a thousand forms in Italian painting and sculpture, he is the ultimate symbol of Renaissance art. He is St. Sebastian, the Christian Adonis pierced by arrows, or ephebic St. Michael, whom the Renaissance took out of his Byzantine tunic and clad in silver armour. The Northern European Renaissance has few beautiful boys and no Apollonian grandeur. [...] Donatello's David stands on its own because it has rejected northern Gothicism for southern paganism. Its hardness and domination of space come from the artist's rediscovery of the authentically western will, inflexible and amoral. Art has rearmed itself with the pagan glorification of matter.


Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 146-49.

Friday, March 13, 2009

delicatesse fatale

Dionysus' female chthonian swamp is inhabited by silent, swarming invertebrates. I proposed that the taboo attached to women is justified and that the infamous "uncleanness" of menstruation is due not to blood but to uterine jellies in that blood. The primal swamp is choked with menstrual albumen, the lukewarm matrix of nature, teeming with algae and bacteria. We have a food that symbolizes this swamp: raw clams on the half-shell. Twenty years ago, I noticed the strong emotions roused by this delicacy, to which few are indifferent. Common reactions range from ecstasy to revulsion. Why? The clam is a microcosm of the female hygra physis [wet or liquid nature]. It is as aesthetically and physiologically disturbing as menstrual albumen. The primitive shapelessness of raw clams offers sensuous access to some archaic swamp-experience.

Boticelli's Venus coasts to shore on the half-shell. Sexual love is a deep-sea diving into the timeless and elemental. G. Wilson Knight says, "Life rose from the sea. Our bodies are three parts water and our minds compacted of salty lusts." Woman's body reeks of the sea. Ferenczi says, "The genital secretion of the female among the higher mammals and in man . . . possess a distinctly fishy odor (odor of herring brine), according to the description of all physiologists; this odor of the vagina comes from the same substance (trymethylamine) as the decomposition of fish gives rise to. Raw clams, I am convinced, have a latently cunnilingual character that many find repugnant. Eating a clam, fresh-killed, barely dead, is a barbarous, amorous plunging into mother nature's cold salt sea.


Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), p. 92.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paglia (still) rules


There is, I must insist, nothing beautiful in nature. Nature is a primal power, coarse and turbulent. Beauty is our weapon against nature; by it we make objects, giving them limit, symmetry, proportion. Beauty halts and freezes the melting flux of nature.

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), p. 57.


This accounts, no doubt, for our (Western) fetishising of vision to the detriment of the other senses, turning "nature", and everything else for that matter, into a spectacle.

on being trapped (2)


The Beast in the Space

Shut up. Shut up. There’s nobody here.
If you think you hear somebody knocking
On the other side of the words, pay
No attention. It will be only
The great creature that thumps its tail
On silence on the other side.
If you do not even hear that
I’ll give the beast a quick skelp
And through Art you’ll hear it yelp.

The beast that lives on silence takes
Its bite out of either side.
It pads and sniffs between us. Now
It comes and laps my meaning up.
Call it over. Call it across
This curious necessary space.
Get off, you terrible inhabiter
Of silence. I’ll not have it. Get
Away to whoever it is will have you.

He’s gone and if he’s gone to you
That’s fair enough. For on this side
Of the words it’s late. The heavy moth
Bangs on the pane. The whole house
Is sleeping and I remember
I am not here, only the space
I sent the terrible beast across.
Watch. He bites. Listen gently
To any song he snorts or growls
And give him food. He means neither
Well or ill towards you. Above
All, shut up. Give him your love.


W. S. Graham, from "Malcom Mooney's Land" (1970), in Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), pp. 147-48.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Better to marry than burn with passion?...


In light of the recent fuss over the re-banning of gay marriage in California, and also to counterpoint the reasoning implicit in the last post (in a wholly different context, of course) that the respectability/normality/stability of marriage is the most desirable course of action for queers, here is a much more sensible view - though an extremely unpopular one by prevalent PC standards - which I fully endorse.


Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End Of The Rainbow

by Mark Simpson

“It’s better to marry than burn with passion,” declared St Paul. But now marriage itself seems to have become a burning issue - or at least, gay marriage.

The re-banning of gay marriage in California earlier this month with the passage of Proposition 8 has been presented by gay marriage advocates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have protested across the US, some reportedly even rioting. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elected official, has fuelled the sense of gay outrage and defiance. Surely only a hateful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?

Gay marriage is the touchstone of gay equality, apparently. Settling for anything less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segregation and second-class citizenship.

But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay marriage not so much as a touchstone as a fetish. A largely symbolic and emotional issue that in the US threatens to undermine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple protection: civil unions bestow in effect the same legal status as marriage in several US states - including California. As a result of the religious right’s mobilisation against gay marriage, civil unions have been rolled back in several US states.

Perhaps the lesson of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on religion and tradition on its hallowed turf - and that is what marriage effectively is - you’re highly likely to lose. Even in liberal California.

Maybe I shouldn’t carp, living as I do in the UK, where civil partnerships with equal legal status to marriage have been nationally recognised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil partnerships were successfully introduced here was because they are civil partnerships not “marriages” (the UK is a much more secular country than the US, and somewhat more gay-friendly too - but even here gay marriage would almost certainly not have passed).

At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, formidable figure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fixation of US gay campaigners on the word ‘marriage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil partnership with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get married. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speaking his mind by gay marriage advocates.

But amidst all the gay gnashing of teeth about the inequality of Proposition 8 it’s worth asking: when did marriage have anything to do with equality? Respectability, certainly. Normality, possibly. Stability, hopefully. Very hopefully. But equality?

First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

More fundamentally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay marriage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex partnerships are partnerships between nominal equals without any biologically, divinely or even culturally determined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.

It’s increasingly unclear even to heterosexuals who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today introduce their husband or wife as “my partner”. The famous exception to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his missus, Madonna - and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agreements, very popular with celebs (though not, apparently, with Guy and Madonna), represent the very realistic step of divorcing before you get married - like plastic surgery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.

If Christians and traditionalists want to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage as something between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the collapse of marriage. Instead of demanding gay marriage, in effect trying to modernise an increasingly moribund institution, maybe lesbian and gay people should push for civil partnerships to be opened to everyone, as they are in France - where they have proved very popular.

I suspect civil partnerships, new, secular, literally down-to-earth contracts between two equals, relatively free of the baggage of tradition, ritual and unrealistic expectations, would also prove very popular with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the institution of marriage is the most unpopular it’s ever been among people who aren’t actually gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil marriage ceremonies, but they’re still marriages, not partnerships. If made open to everyone, civil partnerships might eventually not just be an alternative to marriage. Marriage might end up being something left to Mormons.

Perhaps my scepticism about gay marriage and marriage in general is down to the fact that I’m terminally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with passion than marry. After all, St Paul’s violently ascetic world-view which regarded marriage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sodomites like kindling for centuries.

Either way, I think it needs to be mentioned amidst all this shouting about gay domesticity that, important as it is to see lesbian and gay couples recognised and given legal protection, probably most gay men (though probably not most lesbians) are single and probably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.

Or even the magical, symbolic power of gay marriage.



*Also worth reading Simpson's "Marry Me, Ms P - But Civilly" and "Gay Civil Unions Replacing Straight Marriage In France", of which I single out the following two passages:

- Modern same-sex relationships are a new kind of institution. And so are many if not most of today’s cross-sex relationships. Marriage is an antiquated, failing institution based on inequality, traditional roles and religious sentiment. That’s why it’s seen most as being between ‘a man and a woman’. This isn’t bigotry - it’s tradition. Which is what marriage is. In the words of the Galilee carpenter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wineskins. And keep the fucking Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.
- Marriage seems to be a very dull historical cul de sac that even straight people don’t want to live on any more.


Once again, couldn't agree more!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Chattys

Although I have never had the slightest interest in celebrity gossip, I am fascinated by the mystery of certain creative partnerships, by their apparent unfathomability to most observers.
Bruce & Elizabeth Chatwin's 23-year marriage is for me one of such enigmas, despite the numerous cynical or mythologising accounts still circulating around, and about which I have always tried to remain somewhat sceptical. Nicholas Shakespeare's fine biography of Bruce Chatwin, while not wholly unravelling the mystery (thank goodness), throws a delicate - and arguable - light on it:


A part of him was taking refuge. Bruce worked in a world where homosexuality was not stigmatised, yet he came from a background which did not approve of homosexuality. This dilemma had driven him to Khartoum. He may have hoped [...] that "homosexual behaviour is something you grow out of", and that he could follow the model of his parents' successful marriage. [...] What he aspired to was something not too distant from Sue Goodhew's horoscope ideal: a family life and a relationship that was public, comfortable and supportive. He believed the happiness that marriage and a family would bring might outweight any sexual urges. It was his greatest luck to find Elizabeth Chanler.
[...]
Bruce had told his parents that he was marrying Elizabeth because "she's got a very good head for heights". Only when pressed by his brother did he go further. Hugh put the question to Bruce while walking down Bond Street . "I asked why he was marrying Elizabeth after all the beautiful women he had known: Ivry, Samira, Gloria..." Bruce stopped in the street and replied: "To stop myself going mad."
Hugh understood Bruce to be saying, stormed by his nervous collapse: "This is my anchor."
[...]
Elizabeth, too, may have hoped that marriage and a family would change things. "I knew Bruce was ambidextrous. He was never obvious about it and it embarrassed him that he had this tendency, but he wasn't going to give in to it completely. Looking back, I think he was very uncomfortable at having got himself into this situation, but given his background he didn't see any alternative, and he thought men living together completely unnatural.
[...]
Bruce's "eye" was never better demonstrated than in his choice of a wife. They had a community of interest. Both had grown up on farms; loved art, travel, independence. Both had the Navy and steel in their blood and shared a way of looking at the world. Bruce was continually startled by Elizabeth's originality and lack of self-consciousness: she was never moved by what people thought she ought to be doing or thinking. He admired her, needed her honesty and she made him laugh.
[...]
"When he met her, he'd met his match," says John Stefanidis. "She knew as much, if not more, than he did. It was checkmate." The marriage was not universally understood, yet it made good and lasting sense. It would be unorthodox - but that worried neither. Elizabeth came from a line of eccentric women accustomed to letting their husbands roam.
[...]
There would be painful passages and periods of separation. Bruce had "smart" friends who were slower to see Elizabeth for what she was; sometimes, to his discredit, he appeared to go along with them. Frequently, he went off with other people. He behaved like a little boy with Elizabeth, says Julia Hodgkin. "Always running away from home, setting off with his belongings tied in a kerchief to a stick, knowing that, come nightfall, mummy would come down the road looking for him.
Throughout their marriage Elizabeth remained steadfast. [...] She had the ability not to be emotionally clinging. There was a matter-of-factness in her acceptance of whatever he did. She had made her decision about him and her love was constant. Bruce was the person who could most share the way she saw and lived in the world, and it was plain to Gillian Walker that Bruce felt the same way about her. "His life as it was constructed resembled a circus tent. Everything else can go on, but it has to have a pole to keep it in place. That centering is vital for someone who has a passion for the variety of experiences that the world can offer. Elizabeth was pivotal. Without her whatever chaos there was in his life would have pulled Bruce away from himself."
He needed someone both to run away from and to come back to and he found in Elizabeth that person. "He was dreadful to her," says Gloria, "but he stayed." Ivry Freyberg had no doubt about his motives. "There was no question that he was in love with Elizabeth. She was a completely new animal, so unlike an English girl. He told me: 'I've found this most fantastic American and I'm mad about her'."


Nicholas Shakespeare, Bruce Chatwin (London: Vintage, 2000), pp. 167-69.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

on being trapped (1)


The theme is no doubt universal, atemporal, etc., but I can't think of a poet who wrote more movingly about the condition of being trapped - inside/outside the language of communication, writing, yourself, life, 'love'... well, all "the difficult ones" - than W. S. Graham.


A Note To The Difficult One

This morning I am ready if you are,
To hear you speaking in your new language.
I think I am beginning to have nearly
A way of writing down what it is I think
You say. You enunciate very clearly
Terrible words nearly always just beyond me.

I stand in my vocabulary looking out
Through my window of fine water ready
To translate natural occurrences
Into something beyond any idea
Of pleasure. The wisps of April fly
With light messages to the lonely.

This morning I am ready if you are
To speak. The early quick rains
Of Spring are drenching the window-glass.
Here in my words looking out
I see your face speaking flying
In a cloud wanting to say something.


W.S. Graham, from "Implements in their Places" (1977), in Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), p. 199.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

dis-orientation (4)


Being constantly on the move between the country and the city, I have come to perceive them, not as opposites, but as places along the same vital continuum, generating different rhythms and body practices, but abounding in ancient, subterranean connections and converging flows between them.

'Nature' is still pretty much around, if one keeps one's senses alert, and even the city can be 'a fecund and diverse domain of natural life', as Nigel Clark, evoking Walter Benjamin's flaneur, so cogently puts it.*

And it is reassuring indeed to find a long-time perception of mine thus confirmed: that the allure of the city is its potential for dis-orientation. Again, Benjamin phrased it most eloquently in these terms:

'Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal, but to lose oneself in a city - as one loses oneself in a forest - that calls for quite a different schooling'.

And herein lies the deepest meaning of what his 'botanizing on the asphalt' is all about. A practice that will always be reserved to the happy (?), discerning few, I guess.



*Nigel Clark, "'Botanizing on the Asphalt'? The Complex Life of Cosmopolitan Bodies", in Bodies of Nature, eds. Phil Macnaghten and John Urry (London: Sage, 2001), pp. 12-33 (p. 13).