It is sweeter to wander with the wretched and outcasts than to sit crowned with roses at the banquets of the rich
Elisee Reclus

Monday, August 07, 2006

I Wish To Be Everything and Nothing: Part One

In The Tower where I dwell, books line the walls, on shelves above this desk, on a shelf by the bed. The first thing I see when I wake up is an attack of spines.

I can't say I have really grappled with all of these deep philosophical works. More likely I have spent years embracing them as any English person receives with difficulty any non-Englander who will embrace them with often two or more kisses to the cheek.

Why should I waste my limited time by understanding completely what is being said in these books as opposed to a more suitable approach where through a process of scavenging, pillaging, ripping and tearing, misunderstanding, mangling, boredom, rushing and running I arrive at something more akin to living what is said than just having understood and remembered what was there on the page?

I guess I feel no great need to buffer up my defences by using what is said in big books as a moat for my own insecurity (but I have played this game in the past) . Rather I would like to read as much as I can bare but still enjoy it in my own wacky fashion, purely to break down my self-defences.

My Dad always enjoys how middle-class people would be interviewed on 'tell-a-vision' sitting in front of their bookshelves to indicate that this person knows a thing or two. Equally enjoyable was our uncle who on building himself some bookshelves in a new house, set off to town to buy 'a yard and a half of books'. Enjoyable in a kind of both sides of the same coin sort of way.

The often overheard saying 'They know what they are talking about' often only means that the person is able to talk about things they know about but have not actually experienced.

In books, as in our lives and loves, we will find everything and nothing. Read on..


Reading towards freedom? Seeing towards freedom?
Is it fair for me to oppose TEXT & READING versus GOING & SEING? I'm sure these could all be blended together to produce wonderfully harmonious immediacies resulting in speed and madness towards this goal of 'freedom'.

Despite the everyday unconscious use of all our senses (chip shop smells, the warning sound of approaching cars and so on), there is a sensual unbalance that favours The Eye. This seems to be a modern day insistence on visuality, of things to be seen. Alongside the more obvious and everpresent advertising, I'm also thinking of travel and it's 'what can be seen!' as well as the consumption of entertainment such as live shows, public art and civic displays of endurance and celebration (The Marathon, fireworks displays...) Everything is ready to be seen. Everything must be displayed. It may be true that we are now also expected to display OURSELVES (which might explain the phenomenon that everyone seems to be 'performing' these days, as my friend puts it. Putting on a show on the bus, in shops and bars.)

This public visuality is an overloading without much of a choice of what to see.

More putting the eye before the nose, ear, tongue or or skin, is the increase in picture taking via small personal objects such as phones or digital cameras and their virus like spreading through the symbiotic machinery of The Internet. In this flash of picture taking, have we lost the moment to the image or are we simply making another moment? Another more overladen and complicated moment? Today I saw a newspaper image of Tamin, a Hizbullah fighter, walking around a bombed out Bint Jbeil with a gun, bottle of water and a mobile phone. Looking for a mosque to pray in, he stops in a ruined square and takes a picture on the phone of the destruction. With a checked shirt on and a baseball cap, he looks like a tourist on holiday. It's impossible to know what moment is represented here. What moment that, via photo or photo-messaging, becomes a future. Or a past.

'I wonder how people remember things who don't film, don't photograph...How has mankind managed to remember? ...The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed'

Chris Marker 'Sans Soleil', (1983)

Fantastic Vision
What remains of that beautiful freestyle of vision, of picking out, of detecting? Of clues and deja-vu. Of double-takes and mistaken identity? These something more than standard street visuals are taken as deviations against the sense of time/space that is regulated by the insistence of billboards, newspaper headlines, invitations to 'see' and the list of what is best seen - holiday sun, skinny women over made-up, sporting 'events' or remote parts of the planet accesible only by route of money.

What we can choose to see in opposition to this list (to un-seeing?) reminds me of the great line 'move on, there is nothing to see here...' at scenes of control, novelty, panic, disaster or death when all else around has been over-seen, isn't it these scenes that precisely we do want to see (without consuming). To be part of the crowd and not just the wo/man in the crowd? To help out maybe and put our common-ist sense into play?

But this cannot be entirely what I mean. There is something more...


'I Was Going To See and I was Happy'
'Going to see' is my favourite activity. If we are forced to be active people then a little detective work from that what was overheard or picked up in books, what was rumoured or that which you've just worked out psychogeographically, will suit us fine.

In our realm as a little collection of sociable hermits seeking the hermetic view of life and the process of living, then all the best sympathies and correspondences should be sought out (with eyes but more so with heart). I have seen the chickens in the public park at Trieste but I have not been in the the alleged Bar in the Central Post Office. I have read of this wonder in the book 'Trieste and The Meaning of Nowhere' and I want to return. I also desire to see the chickens again to believe that I really did see them. I have also seen the railway tracks that remain along the seafront although no trains now take heavy goods from one part of town to the other. I found these and was happy, their existence made real by one line in the abovementioned book. I climbed upon the see-saw once when I saw the clock in Swanage or the tomb in St Leornards, the monument in Paris or the statue in Rome.

Upcoming but lazy 'going to see' excursions must include the Masterman memorial in St Giles Church, Camberwell, an engraved tablet made by Eric Gill, such a sighting encompassing my postcode, my Tower, typography, incest and hermits. Here again stands our desire for everything and nothing.

I say 'lazy' because these are not missions but whims. Might go today, maybe not...

The best movie in the world so far, having seen all movies so far made, is Chris Marker's 'Sans Soleil'. Being a collection of seeing things, of things seen, things to be seen. It might give clues to what is said here. Seeing at the level of the human and not the thing. It is not a film to watch lightly, expectantly. Sheer density of image and narration makes it something out of this current simplistic world. Better to watch 5 minutes of it 50 times, than 90 minutes of it once. The same movie but the opposite to 'Sans Soleil' is probably the equally incredible vision of Werner Herzog's 'Fata Morgana' which contrasts Marker's warm glances with Herzog's insistent performance and uncomfortably long stares.

Best to come across these movies than rush out to acquire them...(as things?)

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