Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trailers for A Room of One's Own (2012)

Above is a trailer for Hee-Seung Choi's A Room of One's Own (2012). Another trailer can be found here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Cooking in a Bedsitter (1961)

Have we forgotten Katherine Whitehorn? Did we ever know her? Not really. Not in North America.

The picture up top is of Whitehorn sitting before the fireplace of her London bedsit. The year was 1956, when Whitehorn was working as a magazine subeditor.

It was at Picture Post (the Life magazine of the U.K.) that Whitehorn met photographer Bert Hardy, who asked her if she would pose as a model for a story on loneliness. Hardy took a number of pictures, but this one ended up on the desk of advertising executives, who used it to sell an energy drink called Lucozade (the Gatorade of the U.K.)

In 1961 Whitehorn published a book called Kitchen in the Corner: a Complete Guide to Bedsitter Cookery, which was quickly re-named Cooking in a Bedsitter. Like Bridget Jones's Diary (1996), the book chronicled the changing roles of women in contemporary society, and was a sensation.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three Bedsits

The picture above is from a blog by Dave Ross. I found it within the text of a play he wrote about twenty-something Brits in the late-90s.

A bedsit in Verona, Italy.

A bedsit in Cape Town, South Africa.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

In yesterday's mail came a handwritten letter from someone I had not heard from since high school, someone I barely knew, yet someone who writes with a familiarity that makes me miss her.

How is it that writing can do that? Not just writing, but reading.

The person who wrote this letter has read everything I have ever published -- my books, my essays and articles, and this blog. She gets it that the room from which I write is a fictive space, based on a British bedsit.

Near the end of her letter she mentioned that her daughter, who is studying architecture, has collected every post that begins with "A small room..." and is building a model based on their contents. How timely, because today I am adding a full length mirror to the inside of the closet door.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cloud Study (1830)

The English painter John Constable (1776-1837) was a "poet of the skies."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beard of Stars (1970)

T. Rex's The Slider (1972) was among the party records in rotation at our rec room in the mid-1970s, but it was the band's Beard of Stars (1970) that I would put on after everyone left.

Beard of Stars opens with an instrumental track, the appropriately titled "Prelude", followed by "A Daye Laye". The album concludes with an uncharacteristically long song called "Elemental Child".

Listening to T. Rex today (or Tyrannosaurus Rex, as they were known until the album that followed Beard of Stars), I am reminded of the vocal stylings of poet bill bissett, who turned 74 yesterday, but also Rufus Wainwainright, whom I met while my band was performing at the Edmonton Folk Festival in the early 1990s, where he and his sister Martha, both in their teens, sang back up for their mother and aunt.

Here is an outtake from the Beard of Stars album sessions, a song I had not heard before constructing this post. "Poets of the skies look long and hard" indeed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Ride My See-Saw" (1968)

My parents entertained a lot when I was growing up. Families would arrive at the house, and the kids would be sent to the basement while the adults ran amok above. Occasionally one of us would venture upstairs, then return with a report. We were not impressed.

As we grew into our teens, the situation reversed.

Among the occasional visitors we received was a father who worked in broadcasting. I can still recall his entrance into the cigarette haze of our shaggy, wood-panelled rec room, waving his hand in front of his face, as if to say, Too smokey! even though he was known for his three-pack-a-day habit.

"What the hell are you listening to!" he demanded.

"Stones," said his daughter, not looking up.

"The Rolling Fucking Stones! I met those cocksuckers when they were here in '65. They're midgets, you know. Same with the Beatles. None of them are over five-foot-eight, ninety-seven pounds."

And he went on like this, calling down these bands as if their worth is based not on what can be imagined, but on their height and weight.

Because we knew everything about the musicians who serenaded us during our teenage years, we knew not only the years they were born, but also the days. Something that occurred to me years later is that most of the British musicians we listened to were born during the Second World War (1939-1945), conceived under stress and weened on mother's milk derived from bad diets.

Of course something similar could be said of the man who descended on us that day, who often boasted that whatever success he achieved in life was based on what he learned growing up (rich) during the Great Depression -- an economic situation that not only preceded the Second World War, but in many ways brought it into being.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Before They Make Me Run" (1978)

This is still my favourite cover of a Rolling Stones song -- Sherry-Lee Wisor singing "Before They Make Me Run" from Some Girls (1978).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

From Clay to Stones

When I was a boy, my mother always made sure I had something to do. If it wasn't Cub Scouts at St. Mary's Church, it was whatever was on tap at the Kerrisdale Community Centre, where I swam, learned to cook, took golf lessons and, when I was eight, attended a ceramics class led by a hippie named Victor.

Because most of us were under twelve, it was felt that the potter's wheel would be too demanding on our childish frames. So while Victor sat at the wheel and made pots, we made the coiled version.

At the other end of the room from the wheel, away from the sinks, slips and glazes, was a turntable. After Victor helped us get started on our assignments, he would put on a record. Of the records he brought in, the one I remember best was the U.K. version of the Rolling Stones 1966 album Aftermath.

To this day, every time I hear Side Two of this album (my favourite Side Two, ever), I am returned to the basement of the Kerrisdale Community Centre, where my most enduring visual memory is sitting at a table equidistant from the turntable, to my left, and Victor's wheel, to my right. Spinning, spinning, spinning...

Here is a link to the U.K. version of Aftermath (Side Two begins at 26:40). At bottom are the songs from Side Two, performed (or contributed to) by others (except the last track, because I couldn't find a cover). None of these songs are considered part of the Rolling Stones canon, but songs that run the gamut, from 12-bar blues to off-beat ballads, from experiments in instrumental composition to lyrics dumb and stupid. 


"Flight 505"

"High and Dry"

"Out of TIme"

"It's Not Easy"

"I Am Waiting"

"Take It or Leave It"


"What To Do"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Three Jugs Full

On the topic of "thingness", Heidegger gives the example of the ceramic jug -- how the jug shapes the void inside it and how the void in turn shapes the jug.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Atop my table is a hollow rock that I keep meaning to smash open so I can see what it looks like inside. All I know is that it is a geode, and its mother is a volcano.

Rocks are not supposed to be hollow. What is the expression -- solid as a rock? But even "hollow" is not nothing. Or so says Hiedegger's jug.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blame Government

Back in January 1990, a videotape surfaced of then-Washington DC mayor Marion Barry smoking a crack pipe. As a result, Barry was arrested by the FBI on drug charges.

An arrest such as Barry's would never happen in Canada (or to Toronto mayor Rob Ford) because, as Barry suggests, videotape carries no evidence of drug substances, only drug behaviour.

As for the contents of Barry's crack pipe, all we know is that it was, in Barry's words, "not factual" but a "set-up" by "the United States government."

Comparisons between Barry, a Democrat and prominent 60s civil rights activist, and Rob Ford, an unapologetic libertarian, have been making the rounds of late. Something missing from these reports, however, is how both men, regardless of their political stripes, have used government to extricate themselves from their situations -- with Ford wanting to get back to work so he can cut more of it, and Barry blaming it for his disgrace.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Lost Weekend (1945)

We are given superlatives plucked from reviews of the book upon which this film is based, but nowhere in its trailer are we told of the substance that motivates this lost weekend, nor of the disease behind it. A case of a promotions department building interest, or one where certain words could not be spoken?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Public Office

Holding public office can be stressful, as we have seen most recently with the behaviour of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, whose aggressive "apologies" indicate a man in pain, but also a man in denial of that which ails him. Situations like Ford's never end well, and I feel sorry for this man and his family.

The last time a big city Canadian mayor behaved like this was in 2001, when an inebriated Ralph Klein made a late night stop at an Edmonton homeless shelter and berated residents for not working hard enough at finding jobs, ultimately throwing money at one of them.

The difference between Ford and Klein is that the latter woke up the following morning contrite and immediately sought help, while the former, a bully by nature, has grown more defensive. If there is a bright side to Klein's bad behaviour, it lies behind this link. As for Ford, let us treat this man with compassion, not derision.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

War Artist

"Universal Soldier" (1964), "Soldier Blue" (1971) and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (1990) are three of Buffy Sainte Marie's better known songs. Each deal with armed conflict, the latter two related to a film and a book of the same name, respectively.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Shock and Awwwwwww…

How we remember the living.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


The latticed arbour tenderly
hides our joy which the rose tree
fans and colours with pleasant air;

the languid fragrance of the rose,
thanks to the summer breeze that blows,
blends with the perfume that she wears;

her eyes' promise has been kept:
she is fearless and the favours
of her lips are exquisite fevers;

Love having sated all, except
Hunger -- sherbets and preserves
kept intact our bodies' curves

Friday, November 8, 2013

Painting and Collage

Looking through Alber's Interaction of Color brings to mind the paintings and collages of local artists, from Michael Morris (above) to Elizabeth McIntosh (below).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Homage to a Square, Gained (1959); Tropism XI (1939); and "fluting effect" (1963)


She had understood the secret. She had scented the hiding-place of what should be the real treasure for everybody. She knew the ‘scale of values.’
No conversations about the shape of hats and Rémond fabrics for her.  She had profound contempt for square-toed shoes.
Like a wood-louse she had crawled insidiously towards them and maliciously found out about ‘the real thing’, like a cat that licks its chops and closes its eyes before a jug of cream it has discovered.
Now she knew it. She was going to stay there. They would never dislodge her from there again. She listened, she absorbed, greedy, voluptuous, rapacious. Nothing of what belonged to them was going to escape her: picture galleries, all the new books… She knew all that. She had begun with ‘Les Annales’, now she was veering towards Gide, soon she would be going to take notes, an eager, avid gleam in her eye,  at meetings of the ‘Union for Truth’.
She ranged over all that, sniffed everywhere, picked up everything with her square-nailed fingers; as soon as anyone spoke vaguely of that anywhere, her eyes lighted up, she stretched out her neck, agog.
For them this was unutterably repellent. Hide it from her – quick – before she scents it, carries it away, preserve it from her degrading contact… But she foiled them, because she knew everything. The Chartres Cathedral could not be hidden from her. She knew all about it. She had read what Péguy had thought of it.
In the most secret recesses, among the treasures that were the best hidden, she rummaged about with her avid fingers. Everything ‘intellectual’. She had to have it. For her. For her, because she knew now the real value of things. She had to have what was intellectual.
There were a great many like her, hungry, pitiless parasites, leeches, firmly settled on the articles that appeared, slugs stuck everywhere, spreading their mucus on corners of Rimbaud, sucking on Mallarmé, lending one another Ulysses or the Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge, which they slimed with their low understanding.
‘It’s so beautiful,’ she said, opening her eyes in which, with a pure, inspired expression, she kindled a ‘divine spark’. (34-5)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Approaches to Writing

Last week I visited the University of British Columbia, curious to see the recently completed Audain Art Centre, which, like everything else that is new on campus, is taller than it is wider.

While en route I popped into the under-reconstruction UBC Bookstore, where I looked in horror at the Creative Writing Program's assigned titles. But then, what did I expect?

Despite founder Earle Birney's mid-60s forays into concrete poetry, and Robert Harlow's curiosity about the postmodern novel, UBC Creative Writing has never been a place for formal innovation, certainly not since George McWhirter and his deans made it a "success-oriented" program, as opposed to a site of experimentation. (At least the University of Victoria had the good sense to drop "Creative" from their Department of Writing.)

As I neared the exit I saw in the discount bin a book I had lent out years ago, but never saw again: a "50th Anniversary Edition" of Josef Albers's Interaction of Color (1963). Needless to say I scooped it up and am happy to report that the colo(u)r plates are, as one might expect with today's technology, most excellent.

Those familiar with Albers will know that the artist left Germany for the United States in 1933, after the Nazi's effectively closed down the Bauhaus. It was around this time that Nathalie Serraute began to write her first "tropisms".

Recall what Serraute says in yesterday's post about perceptions of the "Nouveau Roman" writers (of which she was associated) as "cool calculators who began by constructing their theories, which they then decided to put into practice with their books. This explains the fact that their novels have been described as 'laboratory experiments'."

Here is Albers (from Page 1) on that same subject:

This book, therefore, does not follow an academic conception
of "theory and practice."
It reverses this order and places practice before theory,
which, after all, is the conclusion of practice.

Now consider these writings in relation to the writings of visual artists associated with the Conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s, many of whom (such as Dan Graham and Douglas Huebler) are included in the inaugural exhibition at the Audain Art Centre's as-yet unnamed gallery, an exhibition which itself is an anniversary "re-issue" of an exhibition that happened at the UBC Fine Arts Gallery thirty-four years ago.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Moving Foreword

Nathalie Sarraute's "Foreword" to a joint publication of her Tropisms and The Age of Suspicion (London, John Calder, 1963. Translated by Maria Jolas), 7-11

THE PUBLICATION in one volume of a work like Tropisms – which some considered to be a collection of prose poems – with what, quite obviously, is furthest removed from it: a series of essays on the novel, may cause legitimate surprise.
And yet this proximity is justifiable.
The great interest shown today in discussions of the novel, and especially in the theories advanced by the supporters of what, in France at present, is called ‘Nouveau Roman’, has led many to imagine that these theorising novelists are cool calculators who began by constructing their theories, which they then decided to put into practice in their books. This explains the fact that their novels have been referred to as ‘laboratory experiments.’
If this were the case, it might seem plausible that, one fine day, after having formulated certain opinions on the evolution, content and form of the present-day novel, I sat down at my table and undertook to apply them by writing Tropisms, and the books that followed.
Nothing could be more mistaken than this supposition. For no literary work can be a mere illustration of principles, however convincing. And, in fact, these articles, all of which were written in 1947, are far removed from the conception and composition of my first book.
I started to write in 1932, when I composed my first Tropism. At that time, I had no preconceived ideas on the subject of literature and this one, as were those that followed it, was written under the impact of an emotion, of a very vivid impression. What I tried to do was to show certain inner ‘movements’ by which I had long been attracted; in fact, I might even say that, ever since I was a child, these movements, which are hidden under the commonplace, harmless appearances of every instant of our lives, had struck and held my attention. In this domain, my first impressions go  back very far.
These movements, of which we are hardly cognizant, slip through us on the frontiers of consciousness in the form of undefinable, extremely rapid sensations. They hide behind our gestures, beneath the words we speak and the feelings we manifest, all of which we are aware of experiencing, and are able to define. They seemed, and still seem to me to constitute the secret source of our existence, in what might be called its nascent state.
And since, while we are performing them, no words express them, not even those of the interior monologue – for they develop and pass through us very rapidly in the form of frequently very sharp, brief sensations, without our perceiving clearly what they are – it was not possible to communicate them to the reader otherwise than by means of equivalent images  that would make him experience analogous sensations. It was also necessary to make them break up and spread out in the consciousness of the reader the way a slow-motion film does. Time was no longer the time of real life, but of a hugely amplified present.
These movements seemed to me to be veritable dramatic actions, hiding beneath the most commonplace conversations, the most everyday gestures, and constantly emerging up on the surface of the appearances that both conceal and reveal them.
The dramatic situations constituted by these invisible actions interested me as such. Nothing could distract my attention from them and nothing should distract that of the reader; neither the personality of the characters, nor the plot, by means of which, ordinarily, the characters evolve. The barely visible, anonymous character was to serve as mere prop for these movements, which are inherent in everybody and can take place in anybody, at any moment.
Thus my first book is made up of a series of moments, in which, like some precise dramatic action shown in slow motion, these movements, which I called Tropisms, come into play. I gave them this name because of their spontaneous, irresistible, instinctive nature, similar to that of the movements made by certain living organisms under the influence of outside stimuli, such as light.
This analogy, however, is limited to the instinctive, irresistible nature of the movements, which are produced in us by the presence of others, or by objects from the outside world. It obviously never occurred to me to compare human beings with insects or plants, as I have sometimes been reproached with doing.
The volume entitled Tropisms appeared in 1939, under the imprimatur of Denoël. The present edition, source of this translation, was published by the Editions de Minuit, in 1957. It is a corrected re-edition of the 1939 volume, to which have been added the six last texts, written between 1939 and 1941.
This first book contains in nuce all the raw material that I have continued to develop in my later works.
Tropisms are still the living substance of all my books, the only difference being that they now play a more important role, the time of the dramatic action they constitute is longer, and there is added complexity in the constant play that takes place between them and the appearances and commonplaces with which they emerge into the open: our conversations, the personality we seem to have, the person we seem to be in one another’s eyes, the stereotyped things we believe we feel, as also those we discover in others, and the superficial dramatic action constituted by plot, which is nothing but a conventional code that we apply to life.
My first books: Tropismes, which appeared in 1939, and Portrait d-un inconnu in 1948, passed practically unnoticed in the post-war literary atmosphere, which was dominated by the Behaviourist tendency and by a metaphysics of the ‘absurd.’
As a result, if for no other reason than to seek justification, reassurance or encouragement for myself, I began to reflect upon the motives that impelled me to reject certain things, to adopt certain techniques, to examine certain works of both past and present, and to anticipate those of the future, in an effort to discover an irreversible direction in literature that would permit me to see if my own quest was in line with this direction.
Thus it was that, in 1947, I was prompted to study the works of Dostoievski and Kafka from a particular angle. In the article entitled L’Ere du soupçon, which appeared in 1950, I tried to show the results of the transformations of characters in fiction since Balzac’s time,as exemplified in the contemporary novel. And in Conversation et sous-conversation,  published in 1955, I called attention to the out-moded nature of dialogue as practised in the traditional novel.
In connection with the latter article, I should like to stress the fact that when I spoke of the old-fashioned nature of the works of Joyce and Proust, or the naïveté of Virginia Woolf’s ideas on the subject of the novel, it was quite obviously to poke fun at those who had expressed themselves in this manner about these writers. Taken as a whole, it seems to me that this article is perfectly clear; I insist on this point, however, because it has been a source of occasional misunderstanding.
Lastly, in the article entitled Ce que voient les oiseaux, which appeared in 1956, I tried to show, among other things, the academic, formalist features of a certain type of ‘realism’.
Some of the ideas expressed in these articles have contributed to the essential bases for what, today, us called the ‘Nouveau Roman.’
And so, it seems to me that the present volume, to which two such dissimilar works asTropisms and The Age of Suspicion may give an appearance of incongruity, by virtue of this very juxtaposition, gives a fair account of my endeavours, as they progressed from my first Tropisms to the theoretical viewpoints that derived from them.
Paris, 1962

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Second Narrows

Just east of the Second Narrows Bridge, on the north shore of Burrard Inlet, lies the Maplewood Mudflats, once home to counter-culturalists like Tom Burrows and Paul Spong -- until 1970, when the District of North Vancouver showed up with bulldozers, intent on making the area safe for a shopping centre (which was never built).

Further east of the mudlfats (at what is now Cates Park) stood a row of shacks where Malcolm and Margerie Lowry lived in the 1940s and early-50s, before they too were dispatched. A decade later, on this same ribbon of beach, Al Neil took up residence in a nightwatchman's hut, which he and his partner Carole Itter have since brightened.

Lowry was an early Vancouver collagist. Same with Neil, a jazz musician who gave up the piano in the early 1960s to compose not with sound but with flotsam.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Malcolm Lowry"

A vodka manufacturer has made a cocktail of this man.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Collage and Montage

The masks of Brian Jungen are made from Nike trainers. They are examples of montage.

Malcolm Lowry's "Through the Panama", which the author dictated to his wife and editor Margerie Bonner, and appears in his posthumous Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1961), is an example of collage.