Portrait: Henry James

Henry James - portrait by Rino Breebaart
Update: I have correctly sourced the photo. It is by Elliott & Fry, 1890, and comes from the Clifton Waller Barrett Library, special collections dep't, University of Virginia.


Bad things I see (2013)

A slack, lumpen confederacy of the powerless, tweeting madly.

A diet that's one-quarter sugar.

We are suspicious & cynical of media, and yet we're *in* media 24/7. Cat videos and Downfall memes. The meme is now what we used to call 'culture'.

Lied to and manipulated, yet very nearly entertained to death. I see politicians using shiny-bauble arguments to distract us from real human issues.

Major (ongoing) human disasters & slaughters sit right next to glossy food pron.

We have all the information but no meaning. Content is a con - and mostly a commercial way to sell something.

You are not your brand or your social media presence or your gadgets or your likes. Or suckers for hype.

If there was a coherent rallying-cry we'd realise that we've been lost for a long time.

'Society' is being rewritten by the digital. Rights and civic awareness and citizenship are trumped by consumerism and the sale of privacy and spying.

There are few counterbalancing forces against the cynicism and suspicion - but they are mostly offline.

I want to see greater accountability, and greater awareness of responsibility; which makes me sound incredibly old.

I want more art, more beauty in our lives; and more coherent humanity. I want to defuse my default cynical reaction to so much these days: I hope this cynicism is the flipside of a sincere hunger for change.


Re-covering a Remington platen

** Notes ** - in the above, I meant to say 'Letter-Riter' both times. I've swapped covers a few times on my Rems and lose track of the particular -Riter I'm working on. Also, when I say 'tyre' I mean an inner tube, not an outer tyre with the tread etc. OK.
* Edit * - this is the Hermes Platen Re-cover job


The visual arts are happening; novels are not

Research, they say

OK, so this begs many, many more questions. Like, historical context. When we were a largely print society, when written discourse was important, a radical novel could test the boundaries of a typographic-minded society. Cultural institutions were different then, politics and thought gravitated to print. The internet age operates on a completely different set of values, where written discourse is perceived as formal, dated, and writers are a dime a billion. The interwebs are more like television blended with herp derp comments and interactivity. We still work out moral questions and boundaries through our arts, but increasingly these are played out in terms of online-facilitated or -augmented discussions. Because online is where our social and cultural discourse is increasingly heading. The visual arts, on the other hand, can tap into an immediacy and power in this medium much faster than a printed, long and time-intensive work of attention. And so novels and novel culture become to seem quaint and archaic, despite the still-strong symbolic weight we give to "authors" and "novelists". Look at Martin Amis (if we can analogise his as the demise of novel-culcha): his novels tapped into a smart zeitgeist in the 80s, culminating with Money; and then he - first slowly, then rapidly - became an aged laddist writing near-embarrassing tosh that had neither relevance nor insight to give our times. With sales to match, natch. But because he is an "author" with pedigree and a name, he can't not get published, and he carries on. And the bookshows and newspaper reviews keep reading him (if only to sink their knives deeper (Josipovici? - how right he was)). Which is fine and natural and how we've come to expect declines in power. And on the other hand I won't have a bar of the doomsayers saying the Novel is Dead over and over. And filesharing and random renegades like 50 Shades and Potter notwithstanding - I think the novel - the work of long attention - still has plenty of oomph and relevance in the right hands and minds. Maybe I just want the good writers to lift their game. Maybe I have no right. Maybe it should die a declining death, so that new forms of written art may emerge. Maybe that death already happened long ago... Or maybe I'm talking about the narrow spectrum of literary/hibrow fiction, as opposed to all and every fiction, which is healthy and thriving. Hence my belief in Ellroy...


Words for naked frames (text offcuts)

I've been thinking a lot about images lately. The way we're saturated by them in the media-webs, the way television wields them to limit thought and meaning, the way there's no real story unless there's footage, or how straight teeth & hair are more important than words and clear thinking. Etc.

And how a lot of art these days plays on image function in the media.

And how careful deliberation and introspection are voided by the steady streaming of slick, context-shortening images. And how there has never been a better time for image-makers.

And how I distrust all this. And how Gen X could by typified by this latent distrust for all things mediated.

And how I prefer images that are generated inwardly, imaginatively, from my own cortex. Like the mental pictures formed by well-crafted prose, or hearing a descriptive anecdote. And the way these mental images sit in your mind, memory and thought. Or the way classic painters like Rembrandt worked on levels beyond the immediately-visible, the way he added cerebral dimensions and contextual layers into his static-but-dynamic paintings. The way he communicated through them.

Maybe I'm regressing to an anti-imagist. Maybe this is why I love long shots in the cinema. Maybe it's why I cringe at the shallow footagism of news media, the bombast of the same blast footage over and over again.

Anyway. I wrote some prose texts for some photographic works by Ingvar Kenne. They were extremely well-balanced and framed studies of body and light, for a promotional brochure by his agency. Below are some of the off-cuts (when writing about photos you must have variations methinks), and they beg further linkage to the works, but I want to see if they stand alone too. They carry on, indirectly, with all these image-musings.

* * *

I had a realisation, just outside of the usual confines of beauty and pictures, when I looked at these bodily lines merging with light, fading in diffusion and shocked by gasps of red hair, that something goes wrong when we think of beauty in the abstract, either as a subject or a framing exercise or the infinite variety-play of feminine detail, as just another preview to seduction — it’s that we forget that framing is the poor-man’s stand-in for the embodied world, for the seduction of movement that comes in three dimensions. And so the great compositions know this, they reach for and draw out their limits, and the success of that loss is a gesture to the real, for everything beyond the frame.

* * *

Do you want to know what I think happens when we die, to our souls I mean? The nerves carry on for a while with their usual perception. But then the spirit loses detail at its edges, begins to fade and merge with the light; our personal outlines lose focus and eventually we’re diffused into space, as good as transparent, a vague afterglow of photons on the eye.

* * *

What makes an image powerful?
when you see new realities through it
when a painter would be challenged to recreate it
when the image is of something lost
when a writer could induce a novel from it.

[Simple version: art engenders more art]


You are a smartphone (fiction)

You are a smartphone

Stars of the Lid, Ambient, Major Thirds

Ambient music, stars of the lid, major thirds, explained

Ignore my typos. I don't mean to imply that the Lid to sound bilge-y - I just wanted to appropximate the close navigation to such. Almost all ambient music is close to it, at least in some listener's ears - they just don't hear 'music' but an affectless terrain of pleasant light sounds only - undifferentiated pleasantness and hence monotonous. It's that small degree of craft in the best practitioners, the best artists of ambient, that makes the music so cerebrally satisfying. And also, I realise now: besides the minimalist ethic, I like it as anti-music, or antidote music, to the constraints of pop formats, songs with lyrics, or epics of virtuosity etc. Just calmness with none of the usual content of music. Just enough to build a sense of place.


More photos from the Brisbane Type-In 2013

Again, it was really great to meet up with Robert, John, Scott (who organised), Steve, Jane, Kate and the gang. I really want to do this again. Oh and Robert, I hope you have fun unscrambling all the weird pages of guff we wrote! And that Smith Premier 2-bank was like a code breaking machine or something... very interesting action as I typed a message to the U-boats.

Related links:

From Platonic Era to Darwinian Times

Scrap Platonic Idealism - Adapt to Darwinism