Monday, May 30, 2011

On Smoking

So, I think of picking up smoking now that it's mainstream aesthetically so passé in the places, where I tend to live. I keep experiencing these poignant fits of longing as a person, who has never even experimented with cigarettes. Well, when I was about 11 we cut small pipes of dried wild chervil, same ones we used in fresh form to shoot rowan berries at each other – and stuffed them with assorted dry plants and their unknown seeds. We then tried to light the other end of the straw-coloured and taupe packages to no marked avail.

At school I point-blank refused the cigarettes that were offered to me during breaks. They were an informal sign of non-questioning consensus and a formal application to enter the lower secondary school social hierarchy. At the same time I actually admired and I still do the lithe, dreamy figures of 1920s cigarette advertisements, pipe-smoking men (yes, gendered) with or without suits and both the appearance and smell of good cigars; or what I only imagine is a good cigar. Pipe-smoking men preferably with a beard, cigar-smoking men preferably with only a modest beard at most, cigarette-smoking women, and all who weren't a rock 'n roll icons, with tall cigarette holders. It's still pretty much the same.

The aesthetic appeal of never having partaken in a majority vice is powerful. Whether this aesthetic power is more delimited or enhanced by my continuing abstinence, I don't know. Yeah, and cigarettes cost money (to fend myself off). Sexually speaking they are an ambivalent product: especially if used at all extensively they generate new flavours, odours  and reactions all around the human body, yet the sophisticated or rebel imageries conveyed by smoking can be quite alluring. And then there's the health-side, which I'm not that concerned by. Now that bar and public smoking bans are being enforced all around Europe and North America, I still think that it should've been up to businesses and direct democracy to decide. Outdoor sites are largely well ventilated as far as ventilation is possible on this planet or our metropoleis and people are quite capable of voting with their feet in choosing a smoking or non-smoking milieu. The employees of any given pub were aware of smoke when they accepted the job. Even as a non-smoker myself, I had learned that the bitter smell of chain smoking added something essential to a pub feeling. The stench of old smoke and grease was staggering after the ban had been enforced. A sad thing (nota bene). All those crippled old places. But enough of politics.

I continue to maintain a yearning to embody the old smoking imageries. I also recognise that cigarettes are one of our many ways to diversify the manner in which time is practiced beyond conscious standardisation of weights and measures. A lot of activities are calculated per cigarette, a half, two thirds. It marks a break, a change, a continuation. Smoking creates particular social places from the balconies, doorways or field sides, where people gather at a party or work, urban or rural. Cigarettes are such a widespread covert economy that I almost feel like calling it global. They have at different points bought social time in almost all nameable socioeconomic genres. In prisons from Canada to Port Moresby they replace money. To ethnographers they have been and still are a major tool, though the methodology gets only a passing remark in field diaries. Increasingly, because of the fuss, tobacco also marks rebellion and civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is sexy.

P.S. Otis Redding, Cigarettes and Coffee, for some lingering 1960s feel. I'm not a big fan of soul myself, but with this enormous bowl of dark and full French roast coffee in front of me, sigh...

(image: from Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pragmatic physics

The theoretical maximum speed of all perceiving things, the speed of life – totally not in vacuum.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Book of Kells: an unfinished thought

I was reminded of the Book of Kells today. One could legitimately consider a pilgrimage to it; though not due to conventional religiosity but, rather, as a bibliophile; yet not as a bibliophile, who glorifies either the visual complexity of the book or the way in which someone has ruminated over the old gospels – as if bored or uninterested to read something new – filling the margins and empty spaces with endless, colourful scribblings. The journey would take place to downshift the pilgrim's fetish for pretty books: to accept by heart the value of literature on sparser surfaces. Once and for all.

I already doubt the validity of my proposed tension between complex and austere. This is not because every scribbling has its end. The Book of Kells is far from being a single literary work, even if such things are thought to exist. I now see moments of austerity everywhere in its coastal labyrinths of death.

(image: the opening page of the Gospel of Mark)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dust-laden Tiersen (av)ant-garde

This is a world full of dirty surprises. Yesterday I witnessed how Yann Tiersen offered his rear to the cheapest kind of electronic copy-paste Anglo-American synthpop. Dust Lane lacked the kind of meticulous variation, intellectual exploration and virtuosity that I’ve grown to expect from him. I simply could not believe my ears – the anticlimax of the decade! Or let’s still bundle this with the last one, so that I don't have to share a decade. This may be a tad unfair, but I couldn’t help feeling that the maestro Midas has begun to envision that all he touches turns to gold. ‘Look, I’m Gandhi on the Moon’, Tiersen seemed to wave about erratically and braced for his apotheosis. He seemed to treat his band as if they were accessories or slaves, without offering the courtesy of, say, introducing them to the audience. The concert was an utter, defeating contrast to the previous marvel of composition and the tribute to continental music he’s previously served. I say this as a person who’s listened through most of Tiersen’s pre-2010 discography. Sure, I most loved his best known soundtracks, his cooperation with Claire Pichet and his involvement of ondes Martenot on C’était ici. A simple piano melody Comptine d'un autre été, accordion variation and innovative percussions appear the height of his musical style to me.

To add and with all due respect, I’d also prefer if Yann Tiersen never publicly sang in English.

The venue wasn’t acoustically optimal at all, I admit: a rock ‘n roll ditch that easily breaks and muffles the sound – but since the performance was so unrefined in itself, I don’t really think that this was the problem. I’ve seen people like Joanna Newsom and Owen Pallett (you can call this time travel) offer immaculate, staggering performances in the same space. If Joanna Newsom can play the harp in that cave, then Tiersen should have no excuse whatsoever in that area. And now, breathe… …

I must still say that the ticket money was not entirely wasted, though this is not due to the hypnotic last two minutes of Tiersen’s undeserved encore (I felt morally wrong when I joined the audience in applauding him back in hope of hearing some older pieces) as all the sawing, thumping and one of Tiersen’s two synth effects seemed to fall into their right places. The warm-up East-London band Dry the River was delicious on stage, and won my heart with their highly motivated performance, though a lot of their pieces took a long time up to one and half minutes – to launch properly. Still pretty impressive. I heard afterwards that they haven’t even yet published an album. I really should’ve recorded them… just a tiny bit. Listening to the music available on their MySpace makes me think that their music can lose quite a lot in terms of emotion if produced and polished too carefully. They were a breathtaking live band, however if only they can manage to transfer that life force onto an album.

Well, done, given the hard to define exhaustion that presently plagues me. Even with Dry the River it really took until the last song to penetrate the thick membrane that seems parasitically to embrace my aesthetic instinct. To think, last evening it took five people seemingly giving everything they could to touch and vitalise me. Should I be worried? Not that I'm a vitalist or am I?

The following Brussels recording is bad quality but it is the only one I found that has a hint of the ecstatic suggestion last night. I'll replace it if someone uploads something better:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On the Lousy Conversationalists at Cannes

Lars von Trier’s combined irony and intellectual honesty at Cannes was too much for those less acquainted with European humanism – including the present organisers – when he tried to ridicule his own family background while circumventing standard demonisation of Adolf Hitler. See for yourselves in the video clip available on the BBC site. International media headlines have screamed that the director had praised Hitler (of course), though he simply insisted on some common notion of humanity that had to be shared with even the cruellest murderer in history. Surely anyone familiar with von Trier’s cinematography from Dogville to Breaking the Waves to Antichrist is painfully familiar with the recurrence of his critical eye for the human condition?

This is at the very least his second film in row that apparently won’t get the critical opportunity that it deserves as a piece of art to be, given media and random celebrities with unnecessarily loud and uncontemplative voices. At least all the critiques of Antichrist in the mainstream media that I read were too occupied with violent fetishes – and the recurrent panic – of the reviewers themselves to see the questions posed by the director. A pity.

Though I'm sure von Trier has often enough depicted how apparently good it feels have a fellow human being on his/her/its knees.

That’s what you get when you let entertainers organise what was intended assumedly to be an art festival, and invite politicians and super models as guests. Bonfires of anything that attempts to address our worst fears and sins too honestly will burn all too often, as they always have. Perhaps this is a moment of hope: Art is still dangerous and Europe still retains some of its faculties. It is a fine and optimistic gesture from von Trier to place the judging power on other film directors. Could an artist or a thinker of any merit silence another and live with oneself?

In any event, is it necessary (/possible) for a fine cultural philosophical thinker to be a reliably nice human being?

(image: so that von Trier will know better!)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bios Politikos from a Dead Angle

…prostituere (to set forth in public, to expose to dishonor, to prostitute, to put to unworthy use). The Latin verb is a composition of pro (forward) and statuere (to cause to stand, to station, place erect). (Wikipedia, Prostitution)

The name of this yet undefined little building – a French euphemism – is intended as a reference to the mutual reluctance with which people’s attempts to create and furnish some personal space for themselves are treated in pretty much all human social organisation.

Olivier Razac states it in his history of barbed wire (Histoire politique du barbelé, Le Fabrique Éditions, 2000): barbed wire marks something akin to the game of citizenship that bestows symbolic tokens to all those, who are ready to embrace the figurative, not that actual at all, equality within. In a landscape of direct and indirect borders, biofilters, those without the game tend to be unpronounced, undeveloped property that yet waits to be conceptually and physically earmarked.

I have a nagging feeling that it’s not all this simple, though, and I’m perhaps not primarily interested in workings, rights and wrongs of any particular political agenda. I don’t mean to sound like an anti-globalist either. I’m still figuring out the globular part. Bitter-smelling territory markings, gradually washed away by recurring showers of rain or covered in particles, are unavoidable in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention that in a way or another, when correctly positioned in the right conversations, the scent compels us all.

All the small ways in which human life-spheres and bodies necessarily keep being prostituted as a sign of submission to the game – aesthetic, economic, political, ethical, you name it to make it seem true – mark the site of maison de tolérance, the barely tolerant tension that marks the most palatably queer of our storytelling traditions; or the embarrassed feelings that fill those, who suddenly become aware of their own curiosity toward their newly incarcerated playthings in the game of barbed wire relations. Without the right stories to go with, leaving to die is not all that different from keeping alive.

No promises, other than where there stands a treelike tree in all its hierarchical, arborescent form, it stands on a plateau that gazes at it from many a more unknown places.

And how can we talk of order overall
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just which one shines for whom?

(from Szymborska, Psalm)

(image: Harboured Hopes, Scribe of Salmacis 2010)