Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Wrapped up in Books

Few books that have been important for me in 2009. Now only 5, there's a lot more of them, but the rest I'm going to list separately.

1. Return to T.S. Eliot

"In the last ten years – gradually, but deliberately – I have made myself into a machine. I have done it deliberately – in order to endure, in order not to feel – but it has killed V."

First, he made me sympathize with a prematurely aged 20-, than 30- and 40-something at the age of 15, when, via the Metaphysical poets, he’s became my most cult author – because his influence on me didn’t include only poetry, but mainly – essays. Tradition and Individual Talent, Music of Poetry, What is a Classic and various essays on the aforementioned poets I could quote by heart. The dissociation of sensibility and detachment between senses and intellect haunted my youth. Then he’s became an object of my dissertation at my early English literature studies. Then I’ve became more prone to the “experimental” poetry and started reading Pound, Lewis and Laura Riding more ferociously.

There is something about good old TSE you just can’t resist. Even though he, at some point, professed fascism, expressed anti-Semitism, misogyny and god knows what else. It probably has to do with that he was able to permeate my desperate teens to such a deep, overtaking extent, along maybe only with Rimbaud and Thomas Mann (sic!). The publication of the Letters 1923-25 reveals the especially difficult period in TSE life: he published The Waste Land, a shocker of a poem, which shook the ground of English literature and determined the development of poetry at least for the next decade, his marriage with Vivienne Haigh-Wood has proven to be a disaster for both, Eliot still worked at Lloyd’s bank and descended slightly into an especially severe condition, a combination of depression, guilt and self denial. As he wrote in February 1923, to Middleton Murry: ‘it will take me a year or two to throw off The Waste Land and settle down and get at something better which is tormenting me by its elusiveness in my brain.’ It actually finally took place, cf. The Hollow Men, but in a rather exhaustive manner to say the least. Certain vein, set of possibilities, certain momentum, had been already exhausted and faded to an infinite gray.

2. Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Call me reactionary; I like this book. I like Julian Barnes. He’s frequently genuinely funny, self-ironic and never falls into self indulgence or hatred, as for example Martin Amis does. Flaubert’s Parrot is a brilliant book and one of the best accounts on Flaubert there are, remaining an enjoyable, hilarious read. The same goes with A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and Before She Met Me. Even Talking it Over is not without charms. I can forgive him his French pretentiousness and his living in Provence. And I enjoyed his last novel, Arthur and George, quite much. Surely, no wonder, he’s no new Dostoyevsky, but we just can’t afford any new Dostoyevsky or Dickens nowadays. Let’s face it: Barnes at least represents cultured, cultivated times, when writers at least could write proper sentences, and he’s reasonable, modest, and definitely knows how to operate with the pen.
I said ‘reactionary’, cos Nothing considers this usually controversial topic, that is (non)religion. Before you start yawning, I ensure you, that Barnes deals with his own maturing to atheism in an interesting way. He struggles with his brother – analytic philosopher, ultra conservative mother, agnostic father, and grandparents: communist granny especially neat. But he’s not mocking any possibility, and the review of his family beliefs is a nice family portrait and I’m always interested in family portraits. Then there goes his review of books and his significant other authors, like aforementioned Flaubert or Jules Renard, and their views on religion. The conclusion is not revolutionary, we are all afraid of death etc., but what the hell. As Flaubert says, “We have to learn everything, from how to talk to how to die.” Philosopher, c’est apprendre de mourir, wrote Montaigne. Ah well.

ps. Barnes on Orwell here

3. Miron Białoszewski Chamowo & Juliusz Strachota Cień pod blokiem Mirona Bialoszewskiego

Some strictly Polish stuff, haha. Białoszewski (1922-1983) was our one of the best poets of the 20th century, pushing the boundaries of what was possible in linguistic poetry, soaking it with an extremely ‘local’ climate. He was a local poet to the bone, and Warsaw, with its topography, architecture, shape, district division, and the local languages, was his city: his territory, his destiny. I will write a ‘hauntological’ post on Białoszewski once, feel warned!

He survived Warsaw Uprising as a young man, which experience he delineated after years (1970) in the one of the most stirring and poetically excellent war account ever written, that is The Diary from The Warsaw Rising. He invented a new type of literary language: colloquial, mundane, trying to be as sincere to the way things are spoken as it’s possible, simultaneously inventing a new way of recording it: experimented with punctuation marks, small letters etc. But what is the most important is the wholly new way of writing about oneself, which is at the same time very close to life and distanced, as if the writer’s ego, its ontological status, translocated and transformed and become the speech itself. Chamowo, which title is derived from a common name of a part of Saska Kepa, a district in Warsaw, is an exercise in combining a diary, autobiography with a “chronicle of events", but a very strange one indeed, because those events are of a kind, that someone went for a trip near Warsaw or bought a new pair of trousers. It’s a metaphysics of the everyday, of the ordinary.

[this is actually literally "the shadow over the Miron Białoszewski tower block" in Saska Kepa in Warsaw]

Juliusz Strachota is a late heir of Białoszewski, that has a cult status among Polish writers. He was a creator of a whole tradition in Polish literature and Juliusz (1979), whom I happen to know, is its new continuator and a great fan of his. His short stories are really short – like 2,3, 4 pages maximum and his style you could describe as a combination of Etgar Keret, Raymond Carver and Bialoszewski himself. Strachota is the best portrayer of the current 20somethings generation: his typical hero is as anti-heroic as it’s possible, usually a 30 years old computer programmer, neurotic, haunted by memories (clearly soaked with Peoples Republic reality of PL) and the fantastic, grotesque visions of reality. Clearly he’s also unable to express or to feel emotions. But it's not a typical ‘loneliness in a big city’ type of desolation – we are too provincial for it and Strachota is too ironic and self deprecatory. The language is laconic, hilarious, restrained. His hero struggles with his demons, but is looking for a way out.

And Strachota is also one of the most local authors I know, in whose prose details, like the number or a route of a tram or the design of a special street, are of crucial importance. He was obsessed with Saska Kepa in Warsaw, where Bialoszewski lived, living himself in Grochow. And now he lives in Krakow’s Nowa Huta, a famous social realist district designed for workers, a city within a city indeed. The spectral tower blocks and nonsentimentalism of this areas in his prose delight me. Now Nowa Huta has become also a theme for the discussed collection and for his next novel, which I’m currently reading in a manuscript. Hell, it is good. And we need another account of Nowa Huta in literature.

But it doesn’t change the fact I was absolutely thrilled, when I discovered this some time ago from my favourite blogger. Scroll a bit to the top and you will read, how Owen is juxtaposing Nowa Huta with Shirley in his familial Southampton. As far as I’m concerned, we could carry on a twinning of Nowa Huta and Thornhill any time.

4. Rereading of L-F Celine

I don’t really want to dwell on Celine, that is, Louis Ferdinand Destouches (1894-1961), famous for his anti-semitism and favouring Nazism too much. To me he was one of the rare true literary geniuses of the 20th century and its one of the most problematic if not controversial personalities at the same time.

Celine is an ideal writer when you’re young, angry and prone to any shallow radicalism, then he becomes a writer of non-comparable despair. Show me more excruciating, heartrending passages, than those of Bardamu, the hero and the narrator of Mort a credit (Death on credit, 1936). Show me a more contradictory genius of 20th century prose, who was, no doubt about it, such a scum and sociopath. The keys to Celine are his miserable childhood and youth, as presented in Death; then his nightmarish experiences at the WWI front, described in the Journey to the End of the Night, that left him a handicap. Celine had a tin plate in his head and had a high ringing sound in his ears for the rest of his life, as a result of an explosion he endured. then there comes his lifelong experience as a doctor for the poor - his contemptous passages on the proletariat he treated from Death are stirring, but on the other hand, he cured them for free without any spare questions; But nothing can explain or justify what he wrote in Trifles for the Massacre (1937) or then in an even more terryfying pamphlet, L'École des cadavres [The School of Corpses] published a bit later (1938), where Celine postulated a total subjugation and fraternite with the Nazi Germany.

This is something “one would expect from an anti-Semite of Céline's tireless and impenitent ardor, a writer who, from 1937 to 1944, spent all his flagrant literary energy and aptitude calling—shouting—for the death of every Jew in France (for a start).” (to quote this helpful piece). “Once one extends the reach of Godard's claim to include the anti-Semitic trilogy, the congruence of Céline's wink-wink misanthropy with his unblinking sociopathy becomes apparent. It is not that we shouldn't read Céline because he was, at a profound level, contemptible. It is rather that, to understand Céline, we must be ready to, and permitted to, read all that he wrote. Only in this way can we begin to understand what we are saying when we might think to class him as—of all things—a humorist.”

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Kino uber Alles

Films remembered without renewed research, not in the order of importance and not only from 2009:

Inglorious Basterds (2009) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Just two observations over this film, on which you can read practically everywhere else. First, the use of language: Tarantino always has been playing with language, from strange poetry of the trivial, from the gangsta slang in Reservoir Dogs to the woman’s chat in Deathproof. His films are “talked” films par excellence. In Basterds, by various uses of speech, i.e. actually four languages (among which English is one of the least used!), numerous discourses, and the virtuosity of speaking, that sometimes become monstrous (in which obviously the terrifying SS colonel Landa excels), demonstrates that in certain circumstances language can be a lethal weapon, or a measure that is capable of saving life (e.g. the fantastic scene of playing cards in the tavern); nevertheless, chatting may occur a matter of life and death.

Secondly, Tarantino was always a master of depicting the cathartic powers of violence. Here, in this at first glance unacceptable mash-up of a Holocaust movie with a spaghetti western and adventure movie, Tarantino surpasses the efforts of Spielberg in Indiana Jones and more sophisticated fantasies of contemporary art dealing with the Holocaust.

Beeswax (2008) dir. Andrew Bujalski

Latest from this still underappreciated independent filmmaker, which, like his previous films, Funny Ha Ha (2002) and Mutual Appreciation (2005), deals with the ambivalence & inexperience of young adults who find themselves in situations that might well determine the rest of their lives.

Beeswax tells a story of twin sisters, Lauren and Jeannie, both in their late 20s, I suppose, focusing on the latter. It documents few months of their lives, when Lauren seeks work and love in the most unlikely places and Jeannie struggles with managing a quite unattractive, but agreeable second hand store and a former co-partner, who is about to sue her.

As usual we have amateur actors, who are so beautifully directed by Bujalski we don’t even notice it. Jeannie is paralyzed, and the film is utterly straightforward about it without making it an issue. We see her getting in & out of the car, soliciting help from strangers, going to bed with a guy etc.

Dialogue is the best part but already much has been said of Bujalski’s use of language. He’s got a quite rare ability to capture the demurral, hesitation and non-commitment in dialogues that usually concerns the most banal issues.

When Jeannie drives with her on-off boyfriend Merril to a meeting with a friend from whom they want to borrow money for the troublesome business, in a 20 sec exchange Bujalski gives a vision of the couple’s past life together, why they broke up and an idea how they might make their relationship work the next time. Will it be worth it?
The film ends with a sex scene, which ends at the beginning of a foreplay – we can’t really say, whether Merrill and Jeannie will succeed, but they have a slight chance.

Hunger ( 2008) dir. Steve McQueen

I dreamed about seeing this movie long before I was able to actually see it last summer on the festival I worked at. I’m just going to mention few things, since the film remains a truly mind-blowing experience, at some moments approximating to a masterpiece.

First, many months before, I watched all the scenes I could find on the Youtube numerous times. For the one scene only, that is, the 10-minute completely static dialogue scene of Bobby Sands and the priest in the Maze prison, this film would be a masterpiece. But it remains so much more: it combines what is the best in contemporary visual arts with the naturalist tradition of the movies of Irish terrorism, such as In the Name of the Father.

Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands reaches the edges of what is possible in acting, in a good and in a bad sense, but the effect is stirring. The cinematography, monochromatic and static, is brilliant. The way of depicting violence is breathtaking.

As far as the political inclinations go, Hunger remains a positive example of the long discredited engaged cinema. I asked my English friends, did the film cause any new discussion over the Thatcher “legacy” in England; I was told, to my great surprise, that what's been discussed, are mostly only artistic values of the film. Pity.

The Beaches of Agnes (2009) dir. Agnes Varda

I was already writing about Varda on the occasion of presenting her husband's, Jacques Demy, gem of a musical, that is Les Mademoiselles de Rochefort. In this case, forget the “meditation from the legend of Nouvelle Vague over life and death” – it is more another masterful exercise over blurring the boundaries of cinema genres from this great cineaste, that is Agnes Varda. It is a beautiful film, shot by a woman over 80, who clearly is preparing herself for passing away. What she wants to capture is her beloved ones, first of all her husband, that passed away of AIDS years ago, and their mutual life and love within the movies. Most of all, she impresses with self-distance and irony, never aiming at a serious resume, always witty and humble. I love the sequence about her childhood and existence between the fishermen, that made her to do her first movie about her village. And her last film is able to touch really deep and dense matters without ever getting into self indulgence.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) dir. Paul Greengrass

The greatest secret of contemporary cinema is that the real value you can no longer spot in the art house movies. The best moments, of true CINEMATIC value, in many senses, you can get in the most commercial cinema made for the biggest money.

My adventure with the discovery of the astonishing cinematic richnesses of mainstream, high budget cinema, is quite fresh: one can shake off the suffocation of the so called high “kulchur” only when one have been soaking up for enough time with it. I always liked the genre cinema; then there goes the re-evaluation of the pure cinematic values, like editing, sound, cinematography.

In Bourne-Greengrass (director of both Bloody Sunday and Flight 93) edition cinema is again the feast for the senses. It is like in this old story of a bourgeois, who comes to the theatre/cinema/what have you unwilling to make any intellectual effort. Here everything is done for us before we can even think about it. but I’m not saying this in an estimating manner. The editing here is a masterpiece and it’s crucial – the subliminal effects are here in the order of the day. I don’t remember the exact number of cuts, it’s probably few millions or something; and it’s not for nothing. It creates an overwhelming spectacle, a massage for the brain, levitation of the senses.

I’m not even going to mention the plot and to sketch the strangely fascinating-repulsive figure of Bourne himself. Matt Damon proves to be made for this part, being barely watchable apart form this movie. Here he’s a perfect embodiment of a plain men, whom you wouldn’t notice on the street; a perfect embodiment of the forces ruling in the Cold World.

to be continued...

My resume for 2009

2009 was to me more a year of discovering and rediscovering things, than a ferocious if not desperate attempt to be au courant with all the novelties (and it will probably be continued, hopefully as long as possible), as it is usually the case nowadays. This year I spend probably more hours on, most of the time completely futile, groping in the darkness of the internet, marked as so called “research”, than ever before. Like millions of my addicted compatriots, I was digging the tenth references of my current, usually most trivial excitements, spending sleepless nights in search of a holy Grail, measuring out my life with coffee spoons and cigarette butt-ends, not even knowing, when I’ve become some sort of a human-vacuum machine, in all the endeavors, doomed at the bottom obviously, to know or at least to be aware of what is there, to excite a life of a culture zombie or at least to kill the omnipresent boredom, that defines the present moment.

The boredom combined with nostalgia, defines our moment of culture, and can be discovered even in some under-aged kids making this. if some kids born ten years after me are already expressing this kind of ennui and nostalgia, what does it say about the whole culture?

So being already 26, I should probably start to think of myself what my coeval T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) thought back 96 years ago, when being nearly exactly my age he wrote one of the best poems there are, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock: I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me.

The main plan for the upcoming 2010 will be to balance (not merge) the omnipotent “online” with the more and more dubious “offline”, when it is still possible. That is: replacing “software” with the “hard copies”, reading more books & magazines, than digesting blogs, more listening to the music than READING about music. Traveling & going outdoors in general as often as it’s possible, when it’s not interrupting the actual work etc. Wishful thinking, but at least let’s try to stick to those few simple principles.

Anyway, what will follow, will be a bunch of things that I probably devoted the most of my doubtful cogitations and considerations, things that excited me, taught me things or simply gave me pleasure, hopefully, unmediated with the self-censorship, internet hype, and silent culture requirements.

Oh, and btw, below it's me, on my especially powerful 2009 moment, accidentally. I discovered I don't have any photos of myself. From 2010 I'll try to document my exterior slightly better. And the Chicks on Speed image on the top is there simply because i liked it.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Pretending I'm updating

So I'm working a lot, but outside the blog, that's for sure.

below some of the effects of my work:

two interviews from the 6 Week Notebook, on with the expert, scholar and journalist Edwin Bendyk and the second with a group of very interesting Lebanese artists, who told me some about the difficulties of being an artist in a bombed and distroyed city

go here fo the pdf

and here the interview with Mr Owen Hatherley, which I've published nearly 3 months ago, but since Owen is coming to Warsaw for a short visit to have a lecture in MoMA, I can't not re-post it:

go here

I know the future of this blog, if there's any, lies in writing it i POlish and I finally will start doing it...