Thursday, December 22, 2005

33 x Around The Sun

As an independent, experimental movie, 33 Times Around the Sun from British director John Hardwick starts off in a way that hardly allows one to predict its considerable value. At first, strange characters appear next to the road in the middle of the night interacting with the main character - 'H'. As I was watching these eccentricities I felt sure I would file this movie under "quirky". But later the repetition of elements (the surreal cop car that pops up from time to time, and the film crew) start to give the impression that there may be deeper themes at work. It is only by the end of the movie, however, that the film shows it has larger ambitions. A point of closure is reached that brings the main character's drama into its real setting and the rather clever nature of the script comes into its own. In addition there are also themes that raise the film from the merely surreal to metaphor, such as its commentary on filmmaking and the place it has in the consciousness of the main character.

In order to make some sense of this surprisingly interesting movie I gathered a few ideas together. To lay the groundwork - and from here on there are spoilers galore so it's only for those who have seen the movie, or have nothing better to read :-p - by the end we find out that the main character has most probably just been wandering around the hospital interating with other inmates. It is not an abandoned hospital, as it seems at the start when he wakes up, but instead is full of interesting and colourful characters (well, other inmates, and a few official people like the security personnel and the nurse/doctor/therapist).

Starting with the last scene, when he looks out of the window and the camera cuts to the dog (his companion during parts of the movie), one is given the impression that he longs to be outside - outside the hospital - and that is where his mind wanders off to when the other "disturbed" people in this supposedly mental institution appears along the streets and near houses and in a takeout coffee bar during the first part of the film. It may be that he had a dog once, and when he is outside he imagines he is still with his dog, and perhaps it is his real dog waiting outside for him; but it also represents his mute, loyal spirit trying to roam and be free, but always returning to his confinement - to a part of him that is trapped and locked up.

So the second part of the movie is spent inside the hospital, to where he - notably - returns through the strange cubicle after he hides the gun in a hole inside the cubicle. When he exits the cubicle he is surprised to find himself in the hospital - "back to reality" - and immediately asks the two familiar-looking janitors if they've seen his dog. They don't and "it's against the rules" to bring dogs there. They put him in a wheelchair and push him around - clearly they view him as an inmate who has lost his marbles.

But most of the movie - the first part - is spent on the streets. And this is where we meet the characters who make up important parts of his consciousness. We meet the movie directors (director and assistant, and other assistants), and it is through the movie theme that we have a sense of him rehearsing something: something real of his past, but through other faces, disguises and uncertain events ("first positions please!"). We meet Ruth Spencer, a girl who recognises him but whom he cannot claim as a girlfriend to other people. The same figure/actress is also his nurse/doctor in the hospital, and a more professional personality during some of the movie-making scenes. And there is the mad professor-character who talks to him about Einstein in the coffee bar.

These introductions tell us a few things, the most important of which may be the love he feels for Ruth. Is she a girl he really loved and sometimes visited (before he was confined to the hospital), who loved tea and for whom he would buy tea from the coffee bar a few streets away? Some sequences recur such as the music she dances to when he clearly feels an adoration for her - the music repeats later when he does the "final act" scene, walking down the street. On the bench he also touches her hair, playfully, and picks a flea from her hair (which speaks, strangely enough). Later this moment is captured on the first photograph taken by the same character/acttress when she is part of the movie-making team - perhaps his therapist this time, directing him through his mind, helping him to remember and make peace.

Ruth - and the therapist by transference - represents the light that keeps him going. In his search through his mind and the hospital, she is what makes it possible for him to go on day after day.

There is a mysterious neon police car that bumps and spills the tea he meant to take to Ruth. When he returns to Ruth's place he finds that she is gone, as if the police car somehow intervened to remove her from his evening. This could hint at the police's later role in disrupting his life forever by shooting him - a story that is enacted during the so-called "Final Act" scene. Like other characters, the two policemen turn out to be the security personnel at the hospital.

The "Final Act" scene brings the movie theme forward - the assistant director says: "you are the reason we are here". This is his movie, the trip through his consciousness was directed for his own sake. Perhaps the therapist is leading him through his mind, and perhaps getting other people from the hospital to act in one another's dramas is part of a therapeutic process that we are not told about, but whatever the case - the main character is suddenly totally aware that he is on cue. And to emphasise this we see the black and red markers at his feet. We see his back, he turns around, and then he starts walking down the street. He is on his way and he is going to do something - he the "hitherto unknown assassin" (the markers are later echoed in the dance scene, where there are numerous markers for him to dance on before the other performers/actors join him). Having seen the earlier scene where a man is shot in front of him, and later followed by the comments from the director, we as viewers are in a position to understand that he is the person who killed that man.

The camera crew follows him down the street as he walks down, (fake) gun in his hand. The very same music that played during the Ruth Spencer scene when she dances now plays again. Like the photograph, this links his reenaction to the love he feels for Ruth Spencer - presumably through the nurse/therapist who caringly guides him through his mind. The loving therapist/professional/nurse suddenly says, as he gets to the bottom of the street, "no let him go". She tries to encourage him here and this transference of his love for Ruth to the therapist/director is crucial to foster a caring relationship between him and the nurse/therapist.

When he turns around the crew has disappeared. In a sense it's as if she has led him to this point and now wants him to go off on his own, unscripted and undirected, and explore and perhaps break out of the repetition of the trauma-loop that he keeps enacting in his mind.

It would appear that the act he committed was to kill someone ("did he deserve to die?" he asks the movie director via the therapist/professional, and she interprets back for him as a go-between, softening the message). This is played once, and then when the movie crew appears it is repeated - that's when he realises he is in a movie. Shortly thereafter he is summoned for the "final act".

This trauma makes him doubt his own moral character. It happens later as well when he asks the nurse "Am I a bad man?" and she says "You are what you decide to be". Once again she is encouraging him to break free from his trauma and become whole.

To emphasise how important this theme of encouragement from the female character's side appears to be I will briefly backtrack: just before the "final act" she takes his picure and the photograph does not show him at that moment but instead in the tender moment when he is with Ruth on the bench taking the flea from her hair. The "Final act" sequence then plays out with him eventually walking down the street and the therapist/director saying "no let him go". After that he seems to play out another part that is very traumatic - the police find him and shoot him. This is probably one of the events that led to his breakdown and him being committed to the mental hospital. The movie then cuts back to the scene where she takes his picture, but this time it is the real picture and - significantly - she says: "We will keep doing it until we get it right". She is full of encouragment and support, she will help see him through this.

During the "Final Act" scene the therapist/director encourages him to "walk off the set" of this movie - to find his freedom again. But up to now the only freedom he finds, outside in the streets, is roaming through the mental spaces of his old hell that he keeps living through every day. Orpheus' hell, with the therapist (formerly his love for Ruth) his Eurydice.

Nevertheless the movie is left open-ended in a meaningful echo of the idea that the main character should "walk off the set" of his own movie to find his freedom. I point to the very last scene in the movie when the dog - a part of his spirit - is shown standing on the sidewalk outside the hospital. The dog wanders off and actually WALKS OUT OF THE CAMERA FRAME. Does he find freedom, or merely the same hell again? We don't know but for as long as the friendly female nurse/therapist is there, there is evidently hope.


The work of Jacob Moreno, brought to my attention while I was reading up on Family Therapy, quite closely resembles what I imagine the therapist/director female lead in the movie may have been trying to do with her client and subject the lead male actor. Moreno created what he called psychodrama in a fusion of drama and therapy. The very interpersonal situations that gave rise to the client's problems are recreated in these psychodrama sessions. It even uses a stage, and other clients of the therapist (read: patients) usually fill the roles of important people in the person's life. The description does not say whether other figures at the point of trauma will necessarily be included in the drama - although this would only make sense - but since the description is written from the point of view of family therapy, this angle may have been omitted from the description.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Selfishness and self-interest

Selfishness and self-interest defines selfishness as being "concerned chiefly or only with oneself".

It is my contention that selfishness, if it is to be a useful analytical concept, should take into account the possibility of being applied to a social unit other than the individual. That is to say it may pertain to the collective consciousness of a nation, a group, or a couple as the case may be. Its usage in this case would be similar to the notion of self-interest and one may have to regard the traditional view of selfishness as an extreme measurement of self-interest in general, but more likely as an indication of a consciousness that is dissonant with the estimating consciousness.

Francisco Varela states that “there is mind in every unity engaged in conversation-like actions, however spatially distributed or shortlived” and calls this a “conversational domain”.

Following this it may be more accurate to say that self-interest is realized only through this shared consciousness – even though it may manifest apparently monadically in an individual.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The myth of the homunculus

Is this guy just playing catch-up or is 1992 a good date for this realisation breaking through to the mainstream? Many psychologists would probably agree with Deci and Ryan's work that we do not possess a "true inner self", but at best we have "some patterns of thought, feeling, and action that grow and flourish independently of external pressures ... seen as reflecting a kind of true inner self" (Roy F. Baumeister on the theory of Deci and Ryan (1987 and 1991)).

The postmodern view would be more inclined to say that we create ourselves, that we are created in relation to others, and that our collective subjective and intersubjective understandings about ourselves form a loose collective of who we are. As individuals, natch ...

If I were one of Araki's lovers and had my photograph pinned up at the Barbican for all and sundry to see I might consider myself lucky at this unexpected fame, the side-effect of our love affair. I may even have engineered our coitus for that reason ... On the other hand I may be angry, looking back, at being so shamelessly used for art, fun though it was. Whose name will be remembered?

Of course, it's possible he just paid them all - now there's a thought!

But the demeaning truth wouldn't take away the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed 3 hours spent perusing the 4000 odd photographs exhibited on two floors. And it wasn't just the subject matter. I mean, I do like looking at naked women stylishly photographed, but then that wasn't the point now was it?
::quickly move on to the next sentence::
S patiently explained to me how Araki's themes are typical of a certain period of Japanese culture in the 20th century - the residue of male warrior-spirit and the complementary submissive female beautiful object, a medium for sex and reproduction. The maltreatment and abuse of the female body expresses that male stance.

... in some cases the camera abuses the subject in another way, it photographs her while she is unable to look into the lens - for instance when she is sleeping, or looking into the distance, or trying to look up but is at too awkward an angle to do so properly.

And apparently Japanese culture appears polite and smooth on the surface, but underneath exists these dark aggressions and transgressions. Big-time.

Now we know why that Japanese Anime-style porn always seemed a bit weird.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Review: Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis' debut novel.

At less than 200 pages you might expect a quick read and that, eventually, is the effect. Page on page of the same teenage boredom in L.A., vacuous afternoons and spacey acid-filled nights. Trendy hedonism laced with drugs and anorexia. Kids who have not yet come of age O.D. at any of an endless stream of parties. A 12 year-old girl gets mouth-fucked while in a drug-induced stupor. A 19-year old's body is discovered in an alley-way - to the amusement of party-goers around town.

Welcome to the world of Bret Easton Ellis, kids, where children die young and used up, and the rest have nothing to do except circulate bad memories like a constant bad trip.

It may be a debut novel, but there is little to find fault with in this novel (unless you'r eprudish of course) - if it was any more sophisticated it may have come across as too pretentious. It's just right, although I dare say BEE's later stuff must be even more interesting. This is my first outing with him.

Page 35-6 have a back-flash that sort of represents the mindset of this crowd - the pretty boys and girls with nothing to do in particular:

During the end of my senior year one day, I didn't go to school. Instead I drove out to Palm Springs alone and listened to a lot of old tapes I used to like but didn't much anymore, and I stopped at a McDonald's in Sunland for a Coke and then drove out to the desert and parked in front of the old house. I didn't like the new one that the family had bought; wel, it was okay, but it wasn't like the old house. The old house was empty and the outside looked really scummy and unkempt and there were weeds and a television aerial that had fallen off the roof and empty trashcans were lying on what used to be the front lawn. The pool was drained and all these memories rushed back to me and I had to sit down in my school uniform on the steps of the empty pool and cry. I remembered all the Friday nights driving in and the Sunday nights leaving and afternoons spent playing cards on the chaise longues out by the pool wih my grandmother. But those memories seemed faded compared to empty beer cans that were scattered all over the dead lawn and the windows that were all smashed and broken. My aunt had tried to sell the house, but I guess she got sentimental and no longer wanted to. My father had wanted to sell it and was really bitter that no one had done so. But they stopped talking about it and the house lay between them and was never brought up anymore. I didn't go out to Palm Springs that day to look around or see the house because I wanted to miss school or anything. I guess I went out there because I wanted to remember the way things were. I don't know.

"I don't know"

That sums up the narrator's mindset from start to finish.

At the end his (ex)-girlfriend Blair shows a brief interlude of character and resolve:

She's sitting alone and she turns her head towards the breeze and that one moment suggests to me a move on her part of some sort of confidence, or some sort of courage and I'm envious


'I don't know if any other person I've been with has been really there, either ... but at least they tried.'
I finger the menu; put my cigarette out.
'You never did. Other people made an effort and you just ... It was just beyond you.' She takes another sip of her wine. 'You were never there. I felt sorry for you for a little while but then I found it hard to. You're a beautiful boy, Clay, but that's about it.'


She takes of f her sunglasses and finally says, 'I'll see you later, Clay.' She gets up.
'Where are you going?' I suddenly don't want to leave Blair here. I almost want to take her back with me.
'Have to meet someone for lunch.'
'But what about us?'
'What about us?' She stands there for a moment, waiting. I keep staring at the billboard until it begins to blur and when my vision becomes clearer I watch as Blair's car glides out of the parking lot and becomes lost in the haze of traffic on Sunset.

So you read this and think to yourself: "Great, someone brings a glimmer of hope into this listless mess!"

Except on the next page - Clay is about to leave for New Hampshire, for college, this was his summer break - you read:

Blair calls me the night before I leave.
'Don't go', she says.
'I'll only be gone a couple of months.'
'That's a long time.'
'There's always summer.'
'That's a long time.'
'I'll be back. It's not that long.'
'Shit, Clay.'
'You've got to believe me.'
'I don't'
'You have to.'
'You're lying.'
'No, I'm not.'

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A day in Islington

The Candid Arts Trust promotes arts and helps create a network of artists who sometimes exhibit there or is otherwise connected to the CAT. I spent an afternoon in Islington to go and visit the Photography, Illustration, Print Making and Graphics exhibition of the Islington Art & Design Fair at the Candid Galleries in Torrens street - just behind Angel tube station.

Well, I got sidetracked first. Thanks to years of neglect and other sinister reasons the Northern Line is completely out of action at the moment which meant I had to walk all the way from King's Cross station - or take a bus, but I felt too frisky for that - to get there. So halfway there I come across the Crafts Council. Who can resist? I popped in to find the finalists for the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 2005: Metal featuring in the exhibition rooms. Among a paticularly long line of increasingly impractical and unconventional spoon designs I found - yes! - a cotton spoon. Clearly this was about artistic design rather than practical kitchen utensils. I was glad I came :-)

The French-speaking woman to my right couldn't explain the nature of the exhibition very well but there was another unusual lady drifting around looking officious all in black. Except for the girlish ponytail that is. Turns out she is security and she neatly guided me to the brochure at the entrance. She is also a photographer. Whatever.

Me: You know you remind me of someone?
She: Uh, no - who?
Me: A moviestar ... what's her name again? Oh yes, Polyanna!
She: Who's that?
Me: Uhmm, well she's not an actress, she's a character in an old movie. She's always smiling and jumping around. a very friendly girl. I think it's the ponytail that made me think of her.
She: No, I don't know her.

And she was honest. I guess that's a pretty old movie nowadays after all. Right, moving on ...

Oh, and the receptionist spoke faster than anyone I've met in the last I don't know how many weeks or months. Some people get so good at their jobs that every conversation seems predictable. Except when you start asking them about their favourite type of restaurant, haha. I think she doesn't get out much.

The IADF turned out to be pretty interesting. There were loads of artists and photographers - some professional some amateur - exhibiting their stuff. I remember one dude explaining that the naked woman peering from the noir confines of a boudoir photograph was actually from a brothel in Wales, for real.

And then there were the very colourful paintings of Yoshiko Tsuruta, and of Ferney Manrique. Ferney is a designer by day, but has a sizeable collection of paintings and drawings - an amateur artist with a passionate interest in his hobby.

Beautiful photographs by award-winning photographers Peter Greenhalf and Janet Pollard. They manage to make black-and-white look classic and delicate at the same time. Lots of landscapes, especially beaches.

Rebecca, another photographer who took beaches as her theme produced a very different package. Focusing on beach candy shops or empty merry-go-rounds during the out-of-season period, the unexpected stillness and absence of life sets up a naughty desolation and abandonment in otherwise ordinary-looking scenes.

Other artists such as Dawn Gray and Bea Lopez, who exhibited in the same corner, had different themes again. Dawn has stayed some years in Japan and works in what is a little-used medium these days: woodcuts. Japanese motifs of birds and trees permeate the brown landscape. Bea photographs flowers and plants up close and personal.

That was good fun. The CAT also has a fabulous cafe frequented by artists, spiritualists, and otherwise interesting and friendly people. An Indian Yogi came over to explain the West's misunderstanding of Indian philosophy, in particular as respresented in that other dictionary of Eastern philosophy, The Matrix.

In the evening we went to go and see Souvaris at the Buffalo Bar near Highbury and Islington tube station.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

It's weekend!

Damn it's over already.

Almost done with Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. So far it reads like a postmodern homage to Poe (and probably Stevenson as well). But a certain Poe in particular - not the Poe of the House of Usher or any number of stories about longing and a beautiful woman who dies. Not that Poe - rather the Poe in Man of the Crowd and William Wilson, and the theme of playing detective in Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter - a genre Poe singlehandedly invented ("stories of ratiocination" as they were known then).

The detective style is totally different - none of the embellished utterances of C. Auguste Dupin type investigations - but the theme is there. It seems to be about narrative and its relation to identity - literary identity in particular. A detective in search of a character, characters in search of an author, authors in search of purpose - perspectival recursion and narrative self-reference as each detective starts doubting his detective task and the purpose behind it as he discovers someone who could almost have been his double. The discontinuity of identity and the elusiveness of self.

It's all very clever of course.

S and I went to the ICA yesterday and saw 4 - a Russian movie described by one New York Times reviewer as "as close to the experience of an actual nightmare as anything I've seen on the screen". Quotes aside, I was surprised to find very little information on it anywhere on the web. That's a shame really. It is terribly bleak and without any glimmer of hope in its ceaseless sequences of dehumanised individuals and meaningless human encounters, enhanced by ominous and relentless sounds accompanying characters' seemingly simple actions. But that is all the more reason I expect reviewers to exclaim that, surely, modern Russia does not look like this!!

Who knows - the people sitting slightly behind us sounded Russian, and generally laughed or reacted as characters spoke rather than when they would have finished reading the subtitles like us other schmucks, but unfortunately they left so quickly that I never got to ask their take on it.

In the movie everything unravels. No human interaction retains anything but the most basic bond and no one offers redemption. Even suicide is offered as a meaningless way out - something pathetic and without consequence.

It's as depressing as it sounds. It's a carefully constructed movie works. Perhaps the last hour could have been reduced to 45 minutes. I saw one too many scenes with old ladies eating greasy food as if they are celebrating the success of a hunt. They are not - someone died, and they ate a lot, and then a pig died and they stuffed themselves again until they fell over from drowsiness.

Today the tedious ordeal of buses to central London as weekend engineering works continue to make rail services unavailable in this neck of the woods. Ongoing installments of this story until Crhistmas. I'm sure there is a rant left in me, if only I could find the will ::sigh::

Monday, October 03, 2005

Magic at the movies

Haha, this girl stands in front of Empire movie theatre with a questionnaire in her hand, obviously targeting passersby but it would seem she's keeping too much of a low profile to catch many. Regardless.

Me: Hey what notes did you take about me? I saw you! Are you a spy?
She (looking a bit bewildered): No! It's a survey
Me: I am supposed to believe you? You look a bit suspicious you know.
She: No really ... it's about movies. haha, yea I am spy, I was watching you.
Me: Hmmm, are you sure ... where is your special spy gear?
She: It's invisible!


Me: Well that's lucky 'cause I am a spy as well. But how come you don't know the special spy word?
She: Uhmm - it's oyster.
Me: No, that's wrong! You are probably waiting for another spy.

Her fellow footworker arrived. A pretty one, but boy what a slow talker. She claimed it was from a hangover but somehow I wasn't convinced ... It's a travesty sometimes.

Land of the Dead turns out to be quite good. If you ask me it's a satire :-o Yes. The faceless masses will rise up and squash the privileged pale faces. Now where have I seen that before? Oh, Metropolis. And then there are the suckers getting disemboweled for their flesh. Satire for us horror lovers who don't really get out to see Oscar material. Whatever. Rock on Romero.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

If this isn't funny then it sure is sad

Today I walk down the street and see two girls approaching from afar on the other side of the street. I decide to switch sides so I can cross paths with them. They look sternly ahead but as we are about to pass one another one of them ventures to glance up, looking me in the eyes. The surprised look on her face when I give her a broad smile! She half-smiles and raises her eye-brows, but she seems rather bewlidered and soon swings her focus in front of her with a look as if thinking: "Oh god, did he really smile at me?" Hey sweetie, it happens, but I'll be honest I wasn't just being friendly.

Gosh, I guess it's sad when you need validation.

On a lighter note, What a Carve Up! is proving to be a pretty funny and a pretty good book. Its faults are also its strengths - it was becoming too very English to take seriously, almost a parody of itself. But I've been vamped by a Kubrickian gothic pathos (crunch that) suddenly showing its pale, suffering face here in the last 100 pages.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


“No one would say that what they were doing was complicated. It wouldn't even be considered new. Except maybe in the geological sense. They took from their surroundings what was needed... and made of it something more.”

Primer. The last time I had this much fun trying to figure out a movie was with Memento and Mulholland Drive. Oh, and Donnie Darko as well I guess, but to keep my head out of the teenage angst gutter I will stick with the former two.

It’s way more convoluted than Memento though. Way way more (picture rolling green hills stretching into the distance and the sun shifting slowly behind a frisky white cloud beyond them, and you’ll have some idea of what I mean).

Luckily, I have a clue. A few clues to be precise. Unfortunately I will have to wait for it to come out on DVD to watch it enough to confirm my theories. For anybody interested enough to read up to this point, plot spoiler warning (that’s a big red banner with a black skull and cross bones on a treasure chest for the visually minded).

Right on then, there are two pivotal scenes in this movie. I’ve figured out the one, because it contains many clues. I’m still stuck on the other because it’s just too opaque.

Prelude PS: Apart from reading the voice-over on a thread over at, and as a point of pride, I haven't actually checked up on any of the theories in circulation yet.

First big clue scene: the explanation of how the time box works. If you enter at one end of the cycle and exit before the series of cycles completes, then you can create a double existence and keep it through the time travelling going on. Something like that. The point is that there is a precise moment when an exit point is possible (there are two ends, an A end and a B end, enter at the A end, exit at the B end) and this time cycle allows them to exist as doubles in the same world as their originals so that two sets of people exist at the same time. Eventually the originals will exit the loop and be rich, and the doubles will be lost in time because the loop catches up with the other entity in the loop. When? After “around 1300” times.

So this is the first premise – during the short week of time travelling, these two guys are aiming to do the whole shebang around 1300 times. On-screen we only see it happening about 4 or 5 times, but I am assuming this math is important. That means they are gradually timing the shifts of sleeping in the box and going back to sleep in little increments. And getting rich in the meantime, because they get to know the perfect shares to buy, the way to bet on sports games, etc.

Much of the movie becomes understandable when you grasp this and what their goal is: to make money and exit the cycle of loops at a specific mathematical moment when they will be in sync with their doubles so that they can continue existing normally again. Seen from the start it becomes understandable that from a certain point onwards (presumably the point when Abe wakes up when called by Aaron, while lying on the floor in his room) we are seeing things happening in cycle. We see Aaron exiting at the airport twice, and I am still considering the possibility that a real exit happened here somehow - but my reasoning sort of goes against this possibility. Read on.

Something else is happening at the same time. Each is starting to maximise his own gains and trying to see what he can get away with. The scene where Aaron throws the idea of going back in time and doing something anti-social (Aaron jokes about punching his boss on the nose) creates a seed that grows into mistrust and suspicion as each starts thinking of ways to out-do the other. Aaron does something with Thomas Granger (I will get back to this shortly) and Abe creates the failsafe machine.

The second major scene – perhaps the pivotal scene – is in fact one we never see: the night when Aaron’s perfect moment is reverse engineered. We see parts of it of course, but not exactly what happens. This is the key to the outcome, and one I am still groping towards. What we do know is that Thomas Granger has become a double thanks to Aaron somehow (well, we don’t know for sure it's thanks to Aaron, but I here assume it is due to something he pulled on the night of the party – the “perfect moment”). And also that he is now a vegetable apparently after an encounter with Aaron – at the point of him becoming a vegetable something strange is happening because Aaron claims to have slipped when Abe finds him on the ground near TG as well. Something fishy about that. What I reckon has happened is that Aaron and his double switch places at this point. Maybe the perfect reverse engineering has something to do about getting Thomas Granger out of the way through the shotgun debacle - but why it became necessary to make him a double as well I'm not sure. At any rate, for Aaron to get out of Abe's eye-sight just long enough to switch places was perhaps the aim of the situation.

My premise is that the voice-over Aaron is in fact the double speaking to a new double. Therefore I conclude that Aaron has out-thought his double meaning the act of switching places was properly predicted. In the last scene he appears to want to persuade Abe to come with him, but clearly their friendship is over and Abe stays. I at first thought this is an exit point, but I've changed my mind and now think it isn't - see the next paragraph.

Things have gone wrong in two ways: Aaron has somehow switched (maybe twice) with his double, and further Abe has created a failsafe and hence further doubles. It's possible he also switched at some point (the scene where he meets Aaron in the park sitting on the bench the second time is indicative - Abe doesn't have an earpiece and appears clueless about the dialogue - but this may simply be Aaron entering the double's world). I suspect the exit out of the loop is now haywire, and what's more it can't be fixed because the break-up of friendship is happening in the timeframe of the first set (the real present), and so becomes recursive and fragments everything.

If Aaron in fact successfully exited (or perhaps even if he didn't!) one may surmise that he has pre-meditated a winning streak for himself. In the context of the voice-over being from one Aaron to the next, this would make sense.

The voice-over is very helpful. Aaron is the one speaking. Or to be more precise, Aaron’s double. Who is he talking to? The new double. The game is becoming more and more insidious because the vicious cycle of mistrust can only go one way now: further and further away from trust. The recursion is happening in a kind of inner spiral of time that breeds more doubles and, one imagines, ever more elaborate tricks on either side to gain something in the truly vicious cycle.

But as I say, it seems that Aaron has worked out a foregone conclusion - the friendship break-up just emphasises it doubly - and Abe's threat not to contact the others is in vain. The movie - or rather, the voice-over - is that last necessary communication. Also recursive of course.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The heart is deceitful above all things

Moviegoers are divided into two camps about this film, those who love it and those who hate it. Before and after watching it at the ICA tonight I spoke to one of the crew there - he hated it. I was preparing for the worst yet came out loving it. As I knew I would.

If you haven't heard, Asia Argento is siren daughter of film-maker Dario Argento, who gave us such flambulant horror classics as Suspiria. Now Asia has been making movies for a while already, but this one appears to be destined for a longer shelf-life. This is no Dario masterpiece, but the experimental flair makes this movie much more enjoyable than the dreary plot would have you believe.

And morbid it is, as we are introduced to young Jeremiah who has to live through such ordeals as a whipping from his mother's boyfriend, a rape by her dumped ex-hubby, drug abuse and, eventually, a hand-to-mouth life on the streets while his mother tries to make a buck through prostitution. The subject matter is significantly more malignant than I am describing it, but I wouldn't want to give it all away to my faithful readers.

Sigh - I was thinking “Dear Hot Asia ...” something or another. But the truth is she also acted pretty well – I was thoroughly convinced of her as a white trash junkie throughout (well OK, during the first couple of scenes I was getting used to the film-making style and she looked like a non-act – fact).

Did I mention she also directed the movie? Come here, you white-hot bitch!

Monday, July 18, 2005

So one night I get really, really drunk at the pub

So one night I get really, really drunk at the pub. Barry and Liam (names changed to protect their identities, ahem!) are playing a game of pool and I'm gliding my chin lower and lower down the side of the pint glass, ready to fall asleep with my head on top of a postmodern blotch of ash and sticky beer and crisp crumbs. I've seen it a million times - Barry lets Liam believe he can beat him, and just near the end Barry makes a stunning comeback. Liam is such a sucker for punishment. If I'm not mistaken they were actually trying to impress two hotties sitting near the door and looking available. But I'm assuming all of this because, as I was saying, another tune from Keane or Coldplay and I would have been snoring on wood.

Unfortunately I was not to be rescued in this way. A guy whose name I may never remember stops next to me to rest the two beer-filled glasses he is carrying, and decides to stick around. He is verily the ugliest bloke I've seen all night, but to his credit he has a female companion - the soon-to-be-consumer of the other beer. His comment as he looks at me is funny and polite, because I joke back and he laughs. I think he was saying something about me being short of beer, in an ironic way obviously. I'm not in the mood but I muster the strength to start a slurring conversation and he says something about Arsenal and Vieira. Who cares, I'm not a big fan of Arsenal.

I digress, his companion matches his absence of physical charms but I can see they are not really in love or too frisky with each other. They are together tonight because they couldn't find other people to be with on a Friday night, and have that vague everpresent hope that something will come off between them but neither have the courage to make it happen. I'm starting to wish I'd fallen asleep. She's so overweight that her shirt has lifted all the way to her breasts, and although her face has some grace in it her heaving movements distract you from the feelings they may ignite.

But here's the moral of a beer story: when you are drunk, better to stay drunk than to suddenly sober up; it's dangerous like that sickness you get while diving and you come back up to the surface too quickly. A rush of air to the head or something. I go take a leak - one of those long leaks that never seem to end, although you somehow never tire of watching that little ray of liquid meeting the deeper surface - and when I come back I have this funny thought. This poor, friendly idiot has a companion, I'm feeling a bit lonely and this disgustingly overweight woman has suddenly got me very excited with the bulges of fatty flesh billowing around her way small body harness. I suddenly feel stone cold sober, but wisely decide not to let it show too much.

Well folks, I'm sad and sorry to say that I lowered myself to the level of a sleazebag and promptly proceeded to beat the fella to his evening's prize. In a nice way obviously, although to him it must have seemed intolerably cruel. I started chatting to her and she was actually really sweet. When she smiled she had lovely white teeth, and I imagined kissing them while I smiled back at her, and then she smiled back and I could feel the heat going on between us. I learned that she is a nurse and pretended that I am a medical doctor. Incredible since I was so drunk, but I think I pulled it off, although she started talking about muscle wounds and I realised no Latin words were coming to mind and I started improvising procedure, like Frank in "Catch Me If You can".

She didn't doubt me one second, and I made as if I noticed something on her arm - it was just a little scar - and inspected it commenting on certain dangers about old scars. Now my touch was slow - I could tell she wasn't used to being touched and felt a bit uncomfortable, but also somewhat thrilled. She was sweating a bit more in her face and got that funny glow that dawns when embarrassment and desire meet. I knew I was in. Now realise that companion number one was still there, but I had successfully taken the conversation out of his reach. He was confused and fuming a little, but in an impotent way. But get this, in a coup I got him to laugh at my expense, and promptly offered us a toast. Burt and Liam had been watching me with some amusement but were bickering and playing pool against a team now, so I was free to proceed with my conniving aims.

I went to the bar and returned with double shots of tequila. No getting out of our little acquaintance now, was my message. Schmuigi Companioni (or whatever his real name was) suddenly decided, after infinitely delaying his bottoms up, that it was time to relieve himself and I seized my chance prompting [sic] Sally to the tabled area outside at the back. I touched her softly on the shoulder as if to hold her back, at which she looked at me - and I said: "I want to kiss you", and leaned into her and kissed her. A long kiss, even longer than Luigi's leak (if that's what he was doing) took. She liked it - we both liked it - and there was a good feeling going on.

But when he returned and saw us outside, something in the atmosphere changed. I think she spotted him and was afraid or felt guilty - I'm not sure. He didn't do anything, he just stood there looking at us for a bit and then minded his own business, but for some reason I drew back, noticed her near-graceful face and decided that is how I wanted to remember her. I abandoned her there, simply saying: "You are beautiful", then went back in and begged Liam to take us home.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A London pilgrimage

I am sitting here in Caffe Nero in Piccadilly across from Waterstones ("Europe's largest book store") doing what any spirited coffeeshop visitor does - drinking coffee or a smoothie - in my case both.

My pilgrimage started with a 17:32 WAGN service out of Hatfield, arriving at King's Cross around 18:10. It was the slow train, and I hadn't been to London since the bombings. But the first thing I noticed happened earlier at the ticket booth in Hatfield. In response to my question: "What sort of service is running between King's Cross and Hatfield today?" the guy behind the glass's answer was a curt "A normal Sunday service is operating sir." That in fact was one of the few normal things about my train ride today. For one, the waiting area on the platform was practically empty. Is it always this empty on a Sunday afternoon? It is funny how all of a sudden everything takes on a new significance. Soon after - I barely had time to read the first stanza of a poem in my Blake's Complete Writings - the same guy of the ticket booth comes and says hi. He chats a bit, smoking his cigarette. "You live in Hatfield?", I ask "Yea, yea" "Me too" "What was it like on Thursday, were the services affected" Turns out services from Finsbury Park still went on every half hour during the day. People wanting to travel to London got sent home though. No trains at all going in then on Thursday? I didn't ask, but I guess not.

As the train appeared on the furthest curve of the length of track he excused himself, stubbing the cigarette with his foot after it hopped once on the platform. Here was another novelty - he'd come outside with a purpose: he and another rail worker now positioned themselves on either side of the train as the passengers embarked and disembarked. Security has been stepped up! I felt comforted.

The notice board clearly stated that Underground services at King's Cross are closed, but that the Piccadilly Line is running from Finsbury Park. Lo and behold, not only is the train pretty empty but the bulk of people get off the carriage at Finsbury Park. This is almost eerie, but not as eerie as the emptiness at King's Cross. It's surreal. One of the busiest stations in London - busy even on a Sunday - still moving with people but with a distinct lack of something. I'm suddenly aware of the large white space above the doorway where, if you look, you would see platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter. Indeed I do look back to see a few people striking a pose with a trolley, for a picture. But still, the usual activity at the edges of my awareness is subdued. I am aware of empty spaces. I persevere with a friendly face as I walk around and find a reciprocated sense of heightened awareness all around me. Here and there I sense a bit of tension as well. Later at the makeshift memorial I can see the deference in the eyes of the officials standing around. They've seen a lot of sadness today.

I make a quick stop at the memorial - a notice directs people to put their floral contributions in the "garden" next to the station. There's plenty of television crew and some reporters around. Determined to place my own bunch of flowers there my quest for a floral ode starts. Up Gray's Inn Road and then back and on down Euston Road , up and down a side road, eventually as far as Euston where at Marks & Spencer to my surprise I find a bunch of lilies in a glass vase, among others. I was almost convinced everything in the area was going to be sold out.

Armed with my prize I walk back all the way to King's Cross, still donning my friendly countenance. This time I draw a few looks, and it is as if people are wearing their emotions more thinly veiled than usual. I pick up a bit of friendliness, a bit of "oh I don't want to be reminded", and more tension. At regular intervals the pictures of missing people with their names and some details and a number to call are posted against the buildings and the portable walkway walls. They become familiar to me, ordinary people smiling at the camera. I've seen their faces on the web as well.

The memorial area is full of flowers, full of diverse messages of hope, support, condolence, and defiance. I place my vase toward one wall, then change its position as the slant bothers me. I am kindly asked not to take pictures inside the memorial. Fair enough, I should know better.

This picture shows King's Cross from Gray's Inn Road. The memorial is to the right of the building (slightly left of middle in the picture), where people are congregating.

Finally the last leg of my pilgrimage. I need to catch a tube train, and do something normal. That is why I'm here in the West End, now at Leicester Square across from The Hippodrome having dinner. The train definitely seems emptier than usual, and it's alsoas if some passengers are more aware than usual. But not all. The bloke opposite me hangs his head back and closes his eyes - out like a candle until he suddenly gets up two stops down. In the same isle another, younger chap simply looks morose. Intense, but typically gruff. You can get away with that at 21, the fallout of sheer physical energy can still get you to the next stage.

Here in the West End it is slightly quieter than usual, but it's not just that: there is something in the air. Many people act completely normally but I also notice a reflection of that tension I sensed elsewhere - a faint nervousness that would usually be disguised amidst idle chatter and more confident shop talk. There is too little depth in the bustle tonight. It is not the numbers, they are only somewhat less than I would expect - it is more like a playful presence has retreated behind a brave but slightly wary reserve. That startling awareness of empty space is the experience of an unexpected collective mental vacuum. Are people emotionally reaching out, seeking anonymous closeness when the usual habit is to ignore others? This is London, and that habit is a general trademark ... so the strangeness is perhaps only a lifting of the veil.

But maybe the point is moot, because they are here after all, and so am I. And around us at Haymarket Lillywhite's and Piccadilly, at Leicester Square and across Charing Cross Road up all the way to Covent Garden the ageing buildings rise in huge granite like silent guardians, reflecting the last light of day. They remember much more than I will ever know.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London bombings

Shocked by the London bombings - just terrible. So far 37 people reported dead at 4 blasts - 1 bus explosion and 3 on the Underground. All around central London.

Since I stay and work slightly outside of London it didn't affect me directly, but friends and people I know who were in London were. The lack of public transport was a major source of confusion and chaos, but by mid afternoon this problem seems to have subsided somehow. No Underground until further notice, and bus services only in partial operations by late afternoon.

Anyway, much better reports available here, here and here.

Love & blessings.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Fall reframed

Ishmael reframes the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden from a Leaver viewpoint, declaring that the story as it is known in Genesis makes no sense when viewed from the Taker viewpoint. The story in Genesis supposes that pre-agriculture was paradise and the agricultural revolution precipitated expulsion from the Garden, preventing a Taker from having been its original author. Recap on the background and some of the terms here.

Ishmael lets the narrator imagine the gods bickering about how to rule the earth. Their dilemma rests on the fact that no matter how they try to divide the food (should the lion live and the deer die? or the frog live and the fly dies, but then the frog must die when the stork comes along - oh dear!) without committing both good and evil acts. Then they eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and suddenly realise that that is the right way: some days the frog can live, and other days it must die. It's what we call an ecosystem, but remember we're trying to explain the Fall.

Then one day Adam appeared on the scene and the gods were worried: "He is almost like ourselves, what if he should be tempted to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, impatient for the time that he will be ready to eat from The Tree of Life? There is no telling what the knowledge could do to him, because he is not a god himself." And a bit of knoweldge is a dangerous thing it would seem, because they conjecture that Adam (the human race, that is) will employ the knowledge in its own service, i.e. to live well, grow exponentially in population, and slowly kill all the rest of nature to feed its expanding numbers.

And if any say, "Let's put off the burdens of the criminal life and live in the hands if the gods once again," I will kill them, for what they say is evil. And if any say, "Let's turn aside from our misery and search for that other tree," I will kill them, for what they say is evil ... And to the people of this land I will say, "Grow, for this is good," and they will grow.

To reiterate, the story is nonsensical in Taker mythology - a mystery - because the knowledge given by Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is beneficial to man. Why would it be forbidden?

But when you look at the story from a Leaver point of view - from the point of view of the little tribes bordering the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where agriculture is said to have originated - then it starts to make more sense. What these tribes saw was a people who needed more and more land and killed or converted their neighbours (to the agricultural revolution). And wat they thought, these tribes, is "why on earth would anyone want to give up this way of life for such a burdensome, loathsome, cursed form of living as agriculture?". And so they dreamt up the story of the fall whereby man took the power of the gods, the power of life and death, good and evil, into his own hands (and stuffed it up by being completely selfish), only to be deny itself The Good Life.

And so you see that this explanation is pure genius and puts a lot of things into perspective - like how Adam is not the mythological First Man, only the First Man in Taker culture. And Eve, whose name means life, symbolises fertility and population expansion. To add further weight to the agriculture argument, the story of Cain and Abel is the story of two brothers - agriculturalist people and neighbouring Semitic herders. And the gods accept Abel's offering, not Cain's agricultural offering. Clearly the gods are on the side of a Leaver culture!

What Ishmael does not point out, but what occurred to me, is the traditional puritan notion that the Evil in the Garden is connected with sex (the snake plays a symbolic role). Following Ishmael's reframe one might want to comment that population growth, rather than sex per se, is the evil. Then again, we now know that religion has as much to do with mind control as with keeping society together.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Your future

In your eyes I saw the sadness
and disappointment sinking deep,
in your beautiful face a listless
trace of anger, and lack of sleep.

Your pain was already approaching me
where it hid in a far place
but it drained there where I couldn't see
in the shadows in your face.

I felt strange - so close, yet excluded
when I heard your fearful voice
telling me about the future
where you live someone else's choice.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ishmael: beyond The Matrix

Unless you have been reading anthropology for a long time (and I haven't) Daniel Quinn's Ishmael can leave you completely surprised. And even if you have, this novel has every appearance of being a golden thread of concerns many anthroplogists should have been thinking about for decades. I cannot comment on whether they have, but Ishmael is so lucidly written and its message so clearly articulated that there is no question about the importance of its contents. Here is not some new method on how to improve your life, or become a better person - this is about something that concerns all of us on earth, and that everyone should know about.

It would be futile to condense all of what the novel does so admirably in 260 odd pages in one or two posts. Instead I will attempt to highlight one noteworthy topic covered - the recontextualisation of the story of the fall in the book of Genesis in the Bible. To do so it is of some use to explain the setting of the novel.

The novel is largely a dialogue of ideas - literally a dialogue. The narrator, an unspecified person who appears to do some sort of freelance journalism for a living seems to have been searching for someone who can teach him (or her - I can't recall the novel ever specifiying the gender of the narrator; so funny that with the constraint in English of having to genderise a referent, gender is suddenly important! there are languages in which gender differentiation is unimportant in this way) about things he suspects are wrong in the world. It seems to be a case that of "when the student is ready the master appears" because he meets a teacher who starts teaching him about ... captivity

Now, incidentally - and to energise the reader's attention with something more generally accessible - this was also the topic of that entertaining trilogy The Matrix. Remember, in the first movie Neo learns that all humans are living in the Matrix - but they don't know it. The world as they know it is the Matrix. It is almost like a simulation, something that could have been designed by someone - which indeed it was, as we find out in the second installment - by The Architect.

The Teacher (Ishmael) teaches the apprentice about the nature of captivity as well - a prison that one could conceive of as a kind of Matrix, and which we are all living in (enacting) without quite knowing that we are a captive audience and entirely captured participants:

Ishmael: I'm telling you this because the people of your culture are in much the same situation. Like the people of Nazi Germany, they are the captives of a story.

But perhaps this is where the analogy of The Matrix has fulfilled its purpose, because Ishmael succeeds where The Matrix does not venture - nor could have, as its roots are in the ultra-postmodernist ideas that are dismantling civilisation's realities and cherished belief systems, but fixed on this unstable set of continuously imploding constructs. In short, The Matrix's premises (if people cared to look) should make people deeply uncomfortable because no certainties or objective vaues are given to replace them.

As in the novel I will briefly set out some of the terms that are frequently used. First up is the notion of Takers and Leavers. Takers make up most of homo sapiens sapiens. They include everyone who has gone along wth the agricultural revolution started around 10000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Life as most of us know it is entirely dependent on agriculture to allow permanent settlement and population growth. These are some of the basic premises in the story of the Takers. The Leavers on the other hand do not experience consistent population growth - their numbers being held in check by the eco-system they are a part of, just like any species' - and consist of many of the peoples who lived for 3 million years until the agricultural revolution, when things began to change. Today there are few Leavers left - the bushmen in South Africa and the Navajo in North America are some.

Other terms that require explanation by way of definition are:
Story: loosely defined as a story describing man's role in the world and his relationship to the gods.
To enact: in this context enaction means to live in such a way that the story of man as he is related to the rest of the world and to the gods becomes a reality
culture: in Ishmael's words, "culture is a people enacting a story" - i.e. it is the ongoing activity of people enacting their story

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Darkness within

the window recedes
from this interior's darkness

the space retreats
into interior darkness

beneath blue skies
a man doffs his mask

his eyes are fire
as he hides the mask

the mask concealed
a deep inner darkness

the window recedes
and shatters in darkness

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dear friend

We are both ready, and tonight in your eyes
I've come to realise
I can read my own thoughts, and they say:
What if you're the one?

My mind is cold however, chiseled by anxiety
I never knew just how much I relied
on your easy acceptance

Now I look for an escape, another tune
a rhythm or thought
where I won't have to risk you
This is my song. Chalk screeches across a board
A pig squeals

I lean over and our lips meet
and your lips part and I kiss you

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The beauty of Marina is like ...

This is what I wrote her, in the hope of securing a date or some conversation - it was accompanied by an appropriate note of course. She is from a country in Eastern Europe, a particular country whose citizens I now understand to prize their freedom more than almost anything else. But I didn't know where she was from until I'd almost finished writing it - didn't even know her name until then.

Groping for patterns, for meaning, for something that fits I seize on the apparent connection between freedom and rejection, the fluidity of beauty and the association with the city. London, I realise, I associate with nothing so much as freedom - a generalised freedom of existence and of mobility, inasmuch as it is possible within a civilisation. Ironically I suppose. But above all the anonymity, the ability to dissolve completely and yet exist so splendidly.

To be honest, I’m not sure what sort of girl would show any kind of interest in a guy who tries to woo her in this way. That is not to say I don’t think there aren’t any, God forbid I should become so cynical. Perhaps therein lies the answer to the question who or what it is that I am looking for: for such a person as would be interested - or for freedom. Perhaps both.

Yes, sometimes I take myself a little seriously. So, on a lighter note ... Eh, yes, and fwiw and to protect her identity, her name isn’t really Marina.

To Marina

Marina, your beauty is to me
like night-time London's West End streets
that speak and rattle restlessly
through Soho's shadows steeped in unrequited sleep;
down Regent Street at Christmas
where the city sings its venal neon hymns -
and between lattes a shopper hears
forgotten fears, and a broken promise murmuring.
Your beauty is on the Underground
in shaven chins and silences of worshippers
who sway and pray in those cathedrals now
as havens, then transitions. Some disappear.
Marina, although you come from far
I see your beauty where you are.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A weekend in Bristol

After more than one and a half hours on the train we pass Bath, which is picturesque with its old buildings lining the view on both sides of the railway. This pleasure is over all too quickly though and in another 15 minutes or so we arrive at Bristol’s Temple Meads station.

Neither of us has been here before – we have directions to Bristol Backpackers on printed out sheets of paper, information about a few sights to see such as the harbour and Clifton Village, and that is about it. We make our way around Temple Circus and move up Victoria Street when the drizzle turns into rain. I’m too lazy to get out my umbrella. We walk on, cross Bristol Bridge and unwittingly catch our first glimpse of the Floating Harbour. Aye, I was sure the harbour was where the river Avon meets the river Severn about 10 miles outside of Bristol.

Anyway, we find Baldwin Street and eventually St Stephen's street and start looking for the Latino Bar which the directions indicate is across from the hostel. We see the hostel’s banner long before the bar, tucked away at another entrance without much of a signboard outside. We check in, meeting Andrew from New Zealand. I recognise him from his picture on the wall where the current rotating reception workforce has photos. It’s all very efficient and at 14 pounds a night I am still impressed – if you’re just looking for a place to lay your head at night while you get around Bristol you can’t really go wrong with this. There are 6 beds in our room.

We want to go to the harbour, which Andrew tells us is just 5 minutes walk away. Yes, it probably is the little river we spotted on Bristol Bridge … Back on the street M suggests we follow the slant, because the harbour is likely to be at the lowest point. He turns out to be dead right. We have our second glimpse of Bristol's West End and the Bristol Hippodrome near the Centre Promenade, and from there we can see the harbour – man it’s close.

I spot the new Watershed Centre off to the right. In front of us at the quay some boat rides on the ferries are being advertised. I walk closer and a guy seems to appear from nowhere, selling the rides. You can do 40 minute and 1 hour boat rides, all the way to Hotwells and other places. He’s friendly and I ask him about the area. M eyes out the crepes at a nearby stand. I want to try the Mud Dock so I try to convince him that we shouldn’t let the immediacy of our digestive desires deter us from the ultimate aim of experiencing Bristol food in style. Whether he thinks I’m having him on or not I have no idea, but we start looking around for the elusive Mud Dock.

We veer off the docks past the Wildwalk and go to the Tourist Information Centre looking for information on things to do in the evening (we find nothing of interest there). Back at the water a waitress at one of the restaurants overlooking the quay points us in the right direction and we head off across Pero’s Bridge ...

Musician on Pero's Bridge

... to the other side, to Queen’s Square and down to the docks again where the Mud Dock building overlooks the water and the boats in the harbour. It’s too windy to sit outside, but the interior – it’s a bicycle shop downstairs and several bikes are suspended in mid-air or propped near the ceiling as decoration – is interesting and trendy. We stay. The food is good too – and not too pricey if you’re used to London!

View of the harbour from Mud Dock

On our way back we pop into the Architecture Centre. It is rather less than I expected, but does tell a bit about the history of buildings in the city and about several council schemes that have been thwarted over the years that would have impaired or destroyed some of Bristol’s architectural heritage. I’m impressed by that, if not by the “exhibition”.

We pass by Bristol Cathedral and the College Green, where lots of teenagers with black or purple hair, black clothes, silver body piercings and dark eyeliner sit around in groups. I’m amused and half wonder whether I could get acquainted with one of them to find out more about this subculture in Bristol, but our presence seems to arouse no interest in any of them and I am guessing that two tourists in respectable-looking jeans and tops are just too ordinary to hold their attention. I also speculate that this relegates us to the category against which they define themselves, but I don’t have a chance to find out whether this hypothesis is correct because we go off to peer inside Bristol Cathedral where a choir is practicing.

Outside again we pass Bristol Central Library and follow a small street to cross Queen's Parade and enter the park surrounding Brandon Hill. Giovanni Caboto (or John Cabot, as he is known to Bristolians) set sail from Bristol in the ship the Matthew, on May 2 1497 and discovered Newfoundland while looking for a passage to the East. The Cabot Tower on top of Brandon Hill preserves his memory and is visible from various places around the Old City area. We go all the way to Cabot Tower and up Cabot Tower. I have it on good authority from M that there are 81 steps to the first landing and 26 steps more to the second landing. The first landing is extremely windy and my slight fear of heights is provoked at the thought of being swept off (which is unlikely, it is quite enclosed). The second landing is less windy for some reason. Both offer fantastic views of the city.

View of Bristol from Cabot Tower

We head back to the city centre via Charlotte Street and in the hostel I go and lie down for a bit - a dangerous thing as I almost fall asleep! M goes off to look for a Sainsbury's, and lures me into a sitting position with a Jaffa Cake when he returns. He's been as far as the Broadmead Shopping centre to find his necessities.

We go down to the bar area to get a beer. Two guys are playing chess on the bar counter, others are playing cards at a table and a larger group of people chat at a second table. One of the guys at the counter starts grumbling that it’s a shame I’m wasting £1.50 on a beer when you can have two litres of cider from the supermarket for £1.80, pointing to his brew in a see-through bottle. I amiably agree and decide not to linger. We go back to the lobby and sit ourselves down on some of the sofas. Over at the TV some people are watching Troy. A girl from Malaysia sits down and starts talking to us. She studies architecture in London. I invite her to join us for our evening out when we will investigate the live music scene in Bristol.

The wind has it that live music is not very popular on a Saturday night. There are loads of clubs but all offer DJs playing music – nothing live. One person we ask suggests trying a place off Corn street. We run into the queue outside the Walkabout in Corn street before E finds out that the place we are looking for is close by in Clare Street. The Tantric Jazz Bar. They’re full but after pressing the bouncer a few times he relents and finds us a spot. Lovely atmosphere. One guy plays the keyboard and the other a double bass – the string instrument, not the fish. Occasionally a woman joins them to sing.

Back at the hostel we go to the bar. E goes off on her own and I start talking to two girls from Chile. They’re both very friendly. One teaches me a few phrases in Spanish. I can say “chica bonnita”, which means “pretty girl”. Oh, and “hello” and “how are you”, of course.

I drink too much, after another Jack Daniels and Coke I go to my room to find most of my roommates fast asleep. It must be some time after two. I am so considerate, I take my suitcase all the way to the bathroom before opening it to get my toothbrush and finish up. After unlocking my luggage, I carefully put the keys back in my jeans. I start preparing to wear my sleep gear. The jeans slip off easily enough, the said all-purpose party garment is then carefully placed amidst other soft clothes to preserve its texture and a new sleep-garment is pulled from its position inside the suitcase (I would have said space, but the handling of the suitcase tends to cause resettling of elements). I neatly bury all other evidence of the day in the suitcase and without any hesitation proceed to lock the suitcase. Now didn’t I leave my keys inside my jeans? Because I sure as hell don’t see them anywhere on me …

And so the realisation dawns on me that I will probably have to bust open the lock somehow the next morning, at the very least, in order to get to my luggage. Dang! And with that thought repeating itself in various scenarios ranging from aggressive suitcase battering to the abuse of cutting pliers on a titanium lock, I fall asleep.

Clearly, I am not at peace. By 07:40 I am down in the lobby/reception area where all is quiet – very quiet. In fact it is so disturbingly quiet that one of the bar’s clients from the previous night is still sleeping peacefully on the couch. I recall that he was looking set for a severe hangover by the time I left so maybe noise wouldn’t wake him anyhow. Whatever the case may be, I soon find out that reception will only be available after nine. I go to the kitchen to make coffee. Two other early risers - staff members – have come to make coffee as well. I start talking to a girl from Australia who offers some inspiring conversation. She has done some interesting things, one of which was to study Buddhism in Cambodia for 6 months.

Some time after nine reception opens. Reception partied until after 5, and it shows. But she is very helpful. Whereas I was sure nothing less than violence to the lock would open my luggage, she starts applying a hairpin to it. I catch on and take over so she can get on with her duties. Within 5 minutes my suitcase is open. Hurrah! So what use is the lock then …?

I shower, get dressed, take my laundry down to reception and wait for M to come down. After handing in my luggage for safekeeping we head off to the harbour to get some crepes for breakfast. The ferryman from yesterday spots us and comes over for a quick chat.

We decide to go to Clifton Village and to the famous suspension bridge. You can walk most of the way next to the river, which proves to be as good as taking the ferry. We see the ss Great Britain and the Matthew on the other side of the river near Hotwells.

The Matthew

When we reach the Avon Gorge we are greeted with great views from below of the buildings along the Gorge on the Eastern side, including the famous Avon Gorge Hotel, and of course of the Suspension Bridge. A little path through the trees up the hill takes us all the way to the gates of the suspension bridge and more great views. And we had to walk across the bridge, of course 

The Suspension Bridge

Avon Gorge Hotel

The rest of the day passes all too quickly. Near the suspension bridge is the observatory and Camera Obscura. We try it out – the Camera Obscura that is – and for such an old piece of technology it is surprisingly entertaining. In a dark room the camera obscura basically projects images of the surrounding areas onto a concave surface. So you are watching the environment in real time, enlarged and projected, in the dark. It’s quite cool. Outside again I notice some people rehearsing a play and we decide to watch them for a bit. They’re doing stories from the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The actors seem pleased that we are showing an interest, but since their play will only be later in the week this is all we’ll get to see.

We take the route back through Clifton Village. Clifton Village has a remarkably seaside holiday type atmosphere. It is difficult to put your finger on where it comes from, but there is definitely something about the area – something very relaxed. Closer to the City Centre we go around the other side of Brandon hill and stop over at the City Museum and Art Gallery near the University of Bristol Wills Memorial Building (one of the taller constructions in the surrounding area). The art collection exhibits, amongst others, the works of artists who have lived in Bristol over the years. Some names I remember are Francis Danby, Rolinda Sharples, William West, Samuel Jackson and Samuel Colman, and contemporary artists like Beryl Cooke. There is enough variety to keep the exhibition interesting and we end up staying for more than one and a half hours.

Just before we reach the hostel I notice some more graffiti against a colourfully painted empty structure. Banksy uses stencils – could this be some of his, or is it just someone who also uses stencils? (I noticed another stencilled anti-war graffiti artwork against the building on the corner of Park Road and University Road).

Finally it’s back to fetch our luggage and go to Temple Meads Station. It’s been an enjoyable two days – and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve seen something of the place where the famous Bristol Sound originated in the early 90’s. Well!

On platform 15 a train stops for a bit. The brakes whistle as they are relaxed and the doors disengage. A few people get off, pushing through the crowds that are breaking up in clusters at both ends of the coaches. We enter coach C, quibbling briefly over a window seat before settling in. The train pulls away at exactly 17:10 and 10 seconds. We’re on our way back to London.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Shameless self-promotion or adaptive creativity?

"...those whom society considers as artists, and who, in deferring to society's point of view, subscribe to it, have two distinct activities. One is creation itself and the other is the business of promoting that creation... the result is that they are burdened with an onerous activity that leaves them very little time for creation itself. This activity detracts to such an extent from creation proper that their works ultimately become no more than a pretext for their promotional enterprise and are produced as a function of its requirements. This is the mechanism by which social art moves away from real artistic creation and becomes, in fact, opposed to it."

These words of Jean Dubuffet are quoted in the Artesian magazine I bought when at the Raw Arts Festival, by the editor. It is easy to see why an emphasis on non-commercial art would be supportive of raw arts, the emphasis being on creativity and creation. And yet I couldn't help but feel that it is something of a false dichotomy to overemphasise it. There is a famous anecdote about a gallery where both Turner and Constable were going to exhibit. Not only that but a certain painting of each would be displayed hanging next to the other.

Turner saw that Constable's work was more striking than his, overshadowed his. In an unusual move he took a bit of bright-coloured paint and painted something into his picture - purely to attract attention. Now, history is on the side of Turner, because he's been hailed as Britain's finest. But to me it is a symptom of adaptive creativity.

Shameless self-promotion or adaptive creativity? You decide.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The weekend

Well it's been a busy weekend. As I'm sitting here in a coffee bar in Charing Cross Road I reflect that it's been a varied one as well.

The highlight definitely was the May Martini Mixer party organised by Network Canada, held at Canada House on Trafalgar Square. The theme was espionage and from James Bond to Austin Powers to the golden girl from Goldfinger people looked the part. Everybody I talked to - and there were quite a few - was either interesting or beautiful, and in a few cases both. What a wonderful way to spend the evening! I have to say that the openness of the organisation (the party was accessible to anyone who cared to book online at Network Canada's website - and it was very popular, tickets were sold out a few days before already) really added to the flavour of the evening. People from countries as different as Australia and Finland, South Africa and Germany, the USA and Russia were present. And I take my hat off (yes, I was wearing a disarmingly large secret agent hat) for the organisers, who managed the party.

I'd been to Islington earlier in the day, where the Candid Arts Trust have an arts exhibit location just behind Angel tube station. A show on Resonance 104.4fm alerted me to an exhibition of outsider and raw art there - the so-called Raw Arts Festival. Now I have to admit that the terms are all new to me, but generally they seem to refer to art created by people who have had no formal training and/or simply do not follow establsihed artistic methods. I'm hard pressed to describe just what I saw there because it was all quite diverse - one guy, Ben Reche, created drawings in ink (and oil?) that are each highly detailed and very dense, black ink, with lots of little figures and shapes making up a slightly organic, slightly fractal whole. What amazed me was the level of detail in each painting - it's a series of ten, and took him 3 years to complete. They describe a spiritual journey.

It is tempting to ascribe some general meaning to, for instance, the term outsider art but I get the impression that the artists themselves do not see themselves as part of such a category. One lady in particular, when I asked her what it means, said: "I have no idea." Then a bit later I found out she is Liz Parkinson, quite a prominent artist whose works were also exhibited there!

One theme that came up a lot was spirituality - I generalise a bit, but several artists painted figures that have spiritual or visionary meanings for the artists, oh, and there were lots of eyes floating around in some paintings :-) What I personally liked best about the works I saw was the general lack of pretense. For some the artwork is as necessary a creation to communicate with the world as speaking might be. This compulsion is familiar to me - creation as necessity.

Unfortunately the exhibition ended yesterday, but I would recommend giving the place a visit anyway - even if only to have a sandwich or a coffee at the Café (right next door) which has a wonderfully friendly atmosphere and is clearly frequented by other culture vultures. And the prices are very reasonable.

Today I decided to give the Kuba installations at the old sorting office in 21-31 New Oxford street a visit. The installations, recommended by a guest at the Martini Mixer last night, are the creations of the artist Kutlug Ataman who takes people's lives as his topic and record them visually and in their own words.

I know nothing of the milieu really, but apparently Kuba started as a community of people in Istanbul lodged in “safe houses” during a dangerous period. The name Kuba is arbitrary, and one featured person in the installations said it came from a TV series or a movie. Life was tough for these people and their parents, but they've survived and now some are telling their stories. There were 40 installations in all and I only got around to viewing about 6 or so. The most arresting was the women (one just a girl) who described unhappy family circumstances, arranged marriages, and lifelong suffering when they are on their own, friendless, loveless and without the support of a husband but several children to look after. Another installation was more uplifting, a guy who has lots of ambition and who fights against the confines of his situation. He doesn't seem to mind the place where he lives, rather he tries to rise above its limitations through his self-belief.

I would have added pictures to give the text an added dimension, but I was kindly rebuked for trying to take pictures and upon enquiry was referred to Art Angel. Copyright issues.

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is the building in which the installations have been placed (apparently finding unusual settings for art installations is an Art Angel trademark - see their website). The old sorting office has been empty for over ten years, completely derelict, most rooms and halls boarded and locked, and over the years a number of people have probably squatted there. There is a lot of graffiti. I was able to photograph some of the interesting evidence of building disuse en route.

View from the street

Cover me, I'm going in!

At the groundfloor lifts

Get rid of all white space

Blending in with the graffiti - or is it disregard?

Another lift! But it doesn't go ...

The abandoned landing

Almost there

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

vlog: the freedom of trees

Fun with trees and fingers, and here it is my first vlog post.
Click on the image to view.

the freedom of trees

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cybernetics and the birth of family therapy

Which brings us to ecosystemic theory in psychology and its links with cybernetics. There were numerous well-known pioneers involved in the development of cybernetics - Nobert Wiener, John von Neumann, Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Von Foerster, Maturana, Gregory Bateson, and numerous others. The field of scientific cybernetics, practically founded by Wiener through publication of his seminal work in 1948, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, became one important branch of the burgeoning frontier of cybernetics. The scientific branch looked at control in machines, finding most of its early data in the focuses of war - notably guided missiles.

The concern with control is manifest in the word cybernetics itself. In Greek it means helmsman - the one who steers a ship. Cybernetics is concerned with self-regulation - how systems can be regulated through another system, or by itself.
The possible application of cybernetics to the social sciences, the second branch of cybernetics, was understood early on by Bateson, who many family therapists (i.e. those psychologists or counsellors working within the framework of ecosystemic theory) regard as the intellectual founder of systems theory.

To appreciate the birth of cybernetics in the social sciences - and how it is linked to the development of similar ideas in science and biology - it is worth observing that many of the important early names already mentioned were present in a now famous series of interdisciplinary conferences (the Macy conferences, because they were sponsored by the Josiah Macy Foundation). Many of the attendees were at that time the leading mathematicians, scientists, engineers and social scientists.

A lot of the discussion there focused on feedback mechanisms, an exciting new way to understand how systems are able to maintain stability despite: by introducing historical information into the system. In a much later interview Bateson recalls how at first the talk was all about positive feedback (not a value judgement - it means that the system acknowledges that a change has taken place), but it wasn't clear how the system could keep on incorporating change without blowing out - and then the concept of negative feedback was introduced to describe how a system maintains status quo. In essence these concepts were exciting because they provided a framework (which was completely new at the time) to formulate a way to change the future behaviour of a system through a change in feedback information.

Although Norbert Wiener also started reconceptualising psychological concepts in the new language of information processing, Bateson started investigating how families maintain stability and thereby casting his work in terms that have since become familiar to family therapsists. But Bateson was always more interested in the epistemological concerns, which he developed in his most famous work Steps to an Ecology of Mind and later Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, and finally also Angels' Fear, co-authored with Mary Catherine Bateson, his daughter. He remained outside the practical applications of his work in therapy, leaving it to others to continue that and to extend it into what has since become knwon as the field of family therapy.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Loving Linda

He is a man of beautifyingly
her wisdom and the more
she grows and does unknowingly
breathing blood, then sensuously upons
all suddenly she rewards.

But oh man the guilt
I've hid in her bower
insidiousing her
this cruel twisted power

and I'm thinking: "Linda, oh my god, Linda"

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Oooh radio, radio

Londonist recommends listening to resonancefm - and frankly, so do I.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Something original online

I've been searching the web looking for suitably original online art (in any media) that does not fall into the mainstream and isn't boring. Apart from one or two slightly (too) bizarre, but not necessarily uninteresting, underground offerings, I also found sites that have substance or cool entertainment value., a non-profit organisation, endeavours to give creative filmmakers an online audience. It is trying to amass a digital film library and makes much of their material directly available to the online public. Some interesting work - a lot of it you will probably not be able to find anywhere else.

Diesel U Music, both a competition and a platform, has the stated intention of finding original rather than merely marketable music. Whether they succeed is for the listener to judge, but they do showcase plenty of streamable tracks on their website to allow you to join the experience.

Electrica's Kung-Fu Mixer is great fun for Bruce Lee fans like me - it allows you to orchestrate action sequences by recording ready-made samples using the keyboard. I was quite proud of my final product, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way to save and distribute recorded sequences or I'd have presented it here. Great fun. (thanx to the ICA website for this one).

Banksy is a graffiti artist who has photographed some of his escapades and posted them online. And here is a more faithful chronicler than the artist himself.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I'm Green!

Ok, so if I could vote apparently I should vote for the Green party.

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for? v2

Labour 25
Conservative -15
Liberal Democrat 28
UK Independence Party -4
Green 30

You should vote: Green

The Green Party, which is of course strong on environmental issues, takes a strong position on welfare issues, but was firmly against the war in Iraq. Other key concerns are cannabis, where the party takes a liberal line, and foxhunting, which unsurprisingly the Greens are firmly against.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For


Although it was a visceral experience one of my first thoughts was "only in America". It seemed like a stylised Jerry Springer story, too exhibitionist and too much the product of a needy individual, a form of individualised therapy rather than Serious Art (tm).

But I usually know to trust my later recollections as much as my first reaction. Setting aside my prejudices the movie - an autobiographical documentary - has come back to me again and again. The images, and some of the feeling as well.

Jonathan Caouette started capturing his life on film while he was still a child. His own footage is shown against a backdrop of history that we see unfolding in all its horror between onscreen text and pictures from family archives. His mother, who was a beautiful child model, fell from an open window at a young age and became paralysed. Her parents (his grandparents - and you get to meet them) started suspecting the paralysis is psychological and on a neighbour's advice sent her for shock therapy. She recovered control of her limbs at some stage, although probably not thanks to the shock therapy, and continues her modelling career. Later she is (mis)diagnosed with schizophrenia. Evenually, according to the documentary, her personality was altered beyond recognition. Caouette blames over 200 shock treatments in just two years.

We also learn about Jonathan's early years, which were very traumatic. Jonathan's father leaves early on, and because his mother has her problems to deal with he is left in foster care, where he is abused. Later he is reconciled with his mother. She tries to run away (with him) to Chicago. This outing turns sour too when she is raped, with Jonathan a dumbstruck witness. It is too much for her and she returns to Houston where they live with her parents. Jonathan is barely 6 years old at this point.

Then there is drugs, and his homosexuality which he declares early on. We learn about his depersonalisation disorder, the dysfunctional family life, his attempts to get into a gay club at age 13 by dressing up as a goth girl, his attempts to commit suicide.

One of the most striking scenes is where he, as an 11-year old, dresses up and monologues abused women. It is done with what seems like a mature perception way beyond his years, but the emotional content of his own turmoil is clearly also channelled there in the obssessive gestures and repetitive sentences.

If the subject matter is disturbing, so is the delivery - and that really is why the film should be seen. Apparently it was edited and put together using iMovie (Apple Macintosh software). But it's the willful, operatic look at this sordid life, held together by the immense love he feels for his mother, whose condition worsens in front of our eyes, that makes this such a strong experience. There is a sequence where Renee's child model life is described how it happily continues when in the meantime she is receiving shock treatment on a regular basis. The visual overlays, repetition and distortion of images, and the sound compound to something horrifying.

Thematically the movie has numerous psychoanalytic overtones. In an interesting scene taking place later, just between him and the camera, Jonathan says that his mother lives inside him, and that she is behind his eyes. You get a sense that his persona replaces his mother's dysfunctional one and if you are of the opinion that his homosexuality is a strategy rather than a natural tendency, this will look like evidence. In this scene you may also have a fleeting glimpse of something that could make you suspect that his celluloid story is a very coloured view of everything. It is not an objection to the film.

At any rate, it is all these elements combined with the unconventional techniques used to present them that make this worth watching. It's an underground film whose time has come. But be prepared, it is not entertainment in any ordinary sense.