Saturday, August 9, 2014

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys

So being that sort of person, I first read about the new memoir by Viv Albertine, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys, in a Guardian review, shortly after it was published by Faber & Faber in May of this year. After reading a few reviews I decided to see if my local library had a copy. I was pleased and annoyed that I would have to wait several weeks for my turn to read the book.

But why would I want to read such a memoir? When I was a young thing making the scene I loved The Slits, I found them to be a very interesting and brave band. So there was some nostalgia in my desire to read this. Also it is interesting to watch the turn of history. Much has changed since 1976, I thought it would be interesting to see this turn of history from the eyes of another.

The memoir is broken up, like an old fashioned record, into side 1 and side 2. Side 1 being her childhood, and youth including her time with The Slits. In this part she brings to life the grim recession of the late 70's to life. I did not live in England at the time, but rather in New England, which was going through similar economic and political crises. Albertine captures the excitement of punk, the turbulent feeling that we can make a difference, that we can change the world. More importantly she does not shy away from discussing the many contradictions, and cul-de-sacs of punk.

The book contains many amusing and interesting sketches of people I have seen, have heard, have heard of, but have never met. In these sketches we are able to see the true Romantic character of the punk ethos. Punk was the sting of the Romantic tail, struggling to bring to life the idea that enthusiasm can be more powerful than technical prowess. The final scattering of punk taught us a most important lesson, that in the end both talent and enthusiasm can be defeated by money.

Side 2 narrates Viv Albertine's life after The Slits broke up. This is a longer and more powerful section. With the breakup of the band, the author was plunged into poverty and despair. An example of how the music industry uses young people and then throws them onto the scrap heap. From here she tries to rebuild herself. As if to mock her youthful success, life generated a series of challenges. The sort of challenges we all face at one time or another. The second section of this book becomes a tale of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, IVF, cancer, broken marriages. A series of waiting rooms and examinations, where dignity and control are stripped away.

There is a terrible beauty in a much of this. For example, the description of the death of her father was moving and made me well up thinking of the pathetic hopelessness of life. The terrible waste.

Viv Albertine maintained the punk DIY attitude over the decades, rejecting the idea of a ghost writer. This creates a fascinating, almost voyeuristic, look into another persons broken mirror. Many of the reviews I have read describe this memoir as honest, “utter honesty” from the SMH, while the Guardian prefers “searing honesty.” Raising questions of honesty opens up a myriad of philosophical questions as to the nature of truth, questions I do not feel I am capable of answering. I will say that her account feels very sincere and honest, but as I was not there I have no way of verifying her account.

Unlike some of the subject matter, her writing style is not very taxing. The book is written in a very smooth, simple style. Laurence Sterne, author of that strange work of genius, described writing as, “but a different name for conversation.” In this autobiography Viv Albertine seems to take this idea to heart. This book feels almost like chatting with an old friend over a bottle of red.

What did I learn from this book? Behind every great woman is a man trying to hold her back. This modern proverb was amply exposed in this book. Sexual violence, barely hidden contempt, emotional blackmail, domestic violence. Here we can see her honesty, this book did not shy away from showing the truth of women's lives. This constant struggle that women face has changed, but not lessoned since (let us say) 1976; more subtle, maybe, but still all-encompassing.

In the end this book seems to me to be about losing one's self, standing naked before the mirror, and then finding one's self again. Definitely worth a read. This dot point history of contemporary life, this tale of a journey through life is deceptively easy to read; yet on this simple stage Albertine allows a variety of thoughts and arguments to bubble up to the the surface.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


A friend of mine showed me a poem she wrote. She used the image of the oars in the water, churning the water to foam. Which reminded me of the end of book nine of the Odyssey. Our hero is fleeing after having blinded Polyphemus. The phrase Homer uses is πολιὴν ἅλα polien hala. Literally the grizzled salt, but obviously Homer is talking about the churning sea water. Odyssey 9.556ff

So then all the day, until the sun sank
We feasted, sharing ample flesh, sweet wine.
When the sun set and the shadows came,
Lulled by the breakers, we slept on the beach.

With the early rosy fingered light of dawn,
I roused my drowsy comrades, ordered them
To board the ship, to let slip the anchor.

And they at once boarded and on their benches sat
Crouching rows, the grizzled salt sea they struck with oars.

So we sailed away, grieving in our hearts,
Glad to have escaped death, our dear friends dead.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Dying Socrates.

The Socrates of Xenophon was more bourgeois than Plato's gadfly, more practical than the pale, barefoot, long-haired comic foil of Aristophanes. In many ways the Socrates of Xenophon is the most human. The Socrates of Xenophon does not see the taking of hemlock as a glorious attack on a corrupt, and fickle democracy, rather the taking of hemlock is the fitting end to a well lived life. This would also go a long way to explaining the willful mockery of the court that Socrates produced in place of a defense.

This is from The Memorabilia of Socrates 4.8.8. Maybe his death should be seen, similar to the trial and death of Jesus, as a sort of state sponsored euthanasia. For in the end can one be free if one is not able to say, as Roberto Durán said, no mas?

It is hard to make Xenophon sing, as he was a better soldier than he was an author, but he does have a simple, clear style which makes it easier for an intermediate amateur like myself to follow.

I have tried to capture the feel, and some of the imagery of Xenophon. I had fun, and hopefully you will too. If it does disappoint at least it is a short song.

And if I was to live on?
Another season or two...
Would not my life be like prison?
Unable to pay the debt of old age.
My sight and hearing lessened.
My thoughts reduced.
It would become,
Harder to learn
Easier to forget.
From the best
To the worst
I would fall.

And truly, even if I did not grasp
These changes, my life would be
Insufferable. But if I did notice,
Would not my life be constrained?
Would life itself not become
Distasteful, like poison?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Moon

So a pal o' mine posted on facebook a quiz from The Guardian The moon in literature. One question in the quiz was a Sappho poem. Or rather a translation by Edwin Arnold, "Greek Poets in English Verse." Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

The stars about the lovely moon
fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space

So I searched out the "original"

Ἄστερες μὲν ἀμφὶ κάλαν σελάνναν
ἂψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδος,
ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπῃ
γᾶν [ἐπὶ πᾶσαν]
... ἀργυρία ...

and made my own translation.

Stars around the beautiful moon
At once hide their shining forms
When her full light swells,
Making all glow silver.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are, The Philosopher said, animals whose nature it is to be artificial.

Sitting and and at the same time hurtling 100 kilometers per hour down the highway, through showers of heavy rain, listening to Radio National, I made my way to the Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny Farm to see the exhibit Man-Made. An exhibit of recent paintings by two local artists Peter Tankey & Aaron Wasil. Even the the Schoolhouse Gallery itself comments on the dichotomy of the natural and the artificial. The building was built as a bicentennial project and is modeled on a schoolhouse that was built at Osterly about 1890.

The works exhibited were described by Aaron as “a silent but evident struggle between natural and manufactured”; or to use a more classical structuralist metaphor, “the raw and the cooked”.

I enjoyed both painters works. The artists had very different styles, but both seemed to be pointing in similar directions. Aaron Wasil used a slick, cool style. With a simple color palette his style emphasized angles and varied points of view. The works of Peter Tankey, on the other hand, created a kaleidescopic rush of color and form. The detritus of everyday life gathered in staged, and at the same time almost random locations.

The exhibit brought together two different styles. One, almost photo-realist in style, the other more mannered. This difference reflects and reinforces the overall theme of the exhibit and allows us to see different responses to similar material conditions. differences that arise out of twenty years of friendship and shared artistic journey. Differences that arise from late night, wine fueled discussions of artistic practice. Differences that are more about style than they are about philosophy.

This worth seeing exhibition continues until the 10th August. Tues – Fri 11am – 4pm Sat – Sun 12pm - 4pm. More information can be found at the exhibit's facebook page

We live in a world that is full of change. We live in a world which does not know how to change, a world that is unsure and seemingly afraid to change. A world afraid to reflect, a world that seems to me to be similar to Europe before the First World War. So I will leave the final word to Rainer Maria Rilke. In the first of his Duino Elegies Rilke wrote:

...and the nosing beasts soon scent
how insecurely we're housed in this signposted World.
And yet a tree might grow for us
upon some hill for us to see and see again each day.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


So because of a combination of illness, poverty, and family stuff, I was unable to spend much time visiting Dark MOFO this year. This is not to be taken as a criticism of ticket prices, as they seemed quite reasonable considering what was on offer. No this is much more a comment on my own inability to look after myself. Surely a topic for later essay.

I did get to see the Memoriam by Amelia Rowe, which I wrote about here.

If you lived anywhere in the area you were able to see the light installation Articulated Intersect. An artwork by the Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Living in Dodges Ferry we could see the dancing beams of light from our back yard.

The family went to Okines Community House to take part in the Okines Community Gardens Winter Feast. This too could be seen as a festival of light. Hundreds of glass jars were turned into lanterns and decorated by the local children. The kids paraded down to the the aptly, if unsurprisingly, named Okines Beach. Local husband and wife duo Serena and Andy How killed it with a cover of “Ramble On”, while later Bigger Than Bill played. In the distance, searchlights danced and intersected in the waning crone moon solstice darkness. Fairy lights hung, like a failed spider web, from gum trees. Fires burnt in 44 gallon drums which had holes punched to create intersected patterns of rusting metal and flame. Light was all around; candles and flashlights, mobile phones, the flames in the hand built, bread roll baking, oven. And the light that was brought to life was overwhelmed, while teasing and dancing with the endless, bottomless, darkness of the sky, of the ocean.

In an interview with the Guardian the light installation artist noted that search lights were used as propaganda by Nazi's as part their infamous Nuremberg Rallies. As I was wandered, with the children, about Sullivans Cove, we chatted about the use of search lights in other situations. I noted that search lights were used by the Red Army in the climactic, apocalyptic battles which ended the rule of Nazi Germany. Red Army Commander Zhukov described the use of searchlights in the famous night attack by the First Byelorussian Front. “We concentrated a huge striking force on the bank of the Oder: the supply of shells alone enough for a million artillery rounds on the first day of the storming. To stun the German defenses immediately, it was decided to begin storming at night with the use of powerful searchlights. Finally the famous night of April 16 began. No one could sleep. Three minutes before zero hour we left our dugout and took up places at our observation posts. To my dying day I will remember the land along the Oder, blanketed in Aprii fog. At 500 A.M. [0300 Berlin time] sharp it all began. The Matyushas struck, over 20,000 guns opened fire, hundreds of bomber planes roared overhead. . . and after 30 minutes of fierce bombing and shelling, 140 anti-aircraft searchlights employed every 650 feet in a line, were turned on. A sea of light swept over the enemy, blinding them, and pointing out in the darkness the objects of attack for our tanks and infantry.”

We meandered along the waterfront, and stumbled upon the work by Chinese contemporary artist Yin Xiuzhen, [URL] Washing River 2014. Blocks of ice were made from the polluted water of the Derwent River. Passersby were invited to, using a variety of cleaning implements, clean the water, as the ice melted and the water returned to the river, to the barren ocean. This artwork highlights the need to clean the river.

So, after my Okine and my MONA experiences, I thought a lot about light, and noted the many relationships with light and dark and colour. As I walked around the city I noted the reflections of the traffic lights in the windows of the ships and offices, and how this light was distorted by the imperfections in the glass. I noted how the light smeared and spread in the puddles on the ground, in the darkness of river stretching out, how the lights of the houses on the mountain spread up the ridge, and then fell away into the deep frightful darkness of the unsettled forest. I noted the dust and small insects flying in and out and around and about the bright searchlight beams. And the light warming my hands in front of the burning fire in the oil drums.

Omnia quae sunt, lumina sunt. Eriugena. All things that are, are light. And I thought of light and how much we depend upon and are light. From the burning of the sun, to energy converting single celled algae.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


So my partner got some disturbing news -- the old fashioned way, by letter -- and was suitably distressed. So I thought I would take the children out to give her some space to think and arrange herself.

So I gathered up the three kids and we all went to Rosny Barn to view the exhibit Memoriam, by Launceston artist Amelia Rowe. This was described on the Facebook Event page as “bringing together of taxidermy and personal narrative. Transforming Rosny Barn into a walk-in memento mori, into a place to contemplate the relationship between humans and animals.” In this, Amelia Rowe succeeded admirably.

The first thing to ask my children then was, what is taxidermy? From the Greek taxis (arranging the battle order) and derma (skin) - taxidermy is the arrangement of skins. We discussed the various uses of taxidermy, for example in a museum, if a beloved pet has died. Like in an episode of New Tricks, where the greyhound trainer had the bodies of her champions displayed in her office.

It occurred to me that with all the death littering the sides of our roads my children have seen, for example, more dead wombats -- two on a recent trip to Nugent -- than wild wombats.

What is meant by memento mori? We warmed our hands over the wood fire brazier. Misquoting Tertullian in his Apologeticus (33.4) we get "Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!" This is the chant a slave would whisper into the ear of the triumphal general. “Look behind you! Remember you are mortal, remember you must die.” - More or less.

And we wandered about -- Would you like this or that piece in the house? -- and talked about Victorian traditions, postmortem portraits, black ribbons, mutes, and more. All these crystalline jet Victorian mournings were most likely the source of my association of the work Tinkerbell with the Lewis Carroll Duchess and Pig poem.

Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes
he only does it to annoy
because he knows it teases.

I greatly enjoyed a piece called Stolen Memories. This image of the ancient, wise, cunning, majestic Crow rising skyward, carrying a trail of stolen nests, an egg in her mouth, allowed the viewer room to add layers of meaning. Trickster crow, or the crow as an omen of death?

And many of the works whispered covert to me, requesting my touch. I abstained.

When I stood in front of “A rose to remember”, I thought of Lucian's description of the place of punishment on the Isle of the Damned: “for on this ground daggers, razors, spikes, stakes, thorns everywhere bloomed like flowers.” Two rainbow lorikeets arranged on a dead, trimmed, painted rose bush.

So we talked about the art works, the youngest girl ran outside and made friends with some other girls and they played their follow the leader games. We read through the catalog and we were surprised at times by the distance between the ideas that came into our heads looking at the art, and the descriptions by the artist.

This thinking about things can be a way of looking deeper into the art work, it is a type of taxidermy, in the sense that the viewer is forced to order, to arrange, their skin in response to the art, the raw and the cooked. For art can make one a seer, a type of divinator “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.”

But we agreed that in the same way that art can be more than the traditional practice of oil on canvas, or pencil on paper, so to the viewer is not constrained by one single manner of seeing.

And then we got ice cream and drove home and my pal was, after a hot shower and a glass of wine, feeling better.

More information and contact details and etc can be found on Amelia Rowe's blog.