Archive for May, 2013

29 May 2013

…but the string that ties them

Next week I will read from the first draft of a new chapter in my book, at the Sounding Space Symposium in London.
I wrote this chapter as I was immersed in Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book, that immense work of criticism and autobiography, that feast of literary pleasure, layered work of abandon and dedication which voices a writer’s proximity to, and need for, a silent conversation with other writers.

At one point Duncan reports how in 1891, a month before her death, Madame Blavatsky closed her last essay with a quotation from Montaigne:

‘I have here made only a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the string that ties them.’

Duncan writes of this string as ‘the thread of her argument, a wish that she, and mankind with her, might be released from the contradictions of dream and fact, creative idea and actuality, that tortured her spirit.’

I like to think of my next book as a nosegay. The culled flowers: you’ve seen and read many of them in this blog. The string is in my reading. The title of my chapter is but the string that ties them. Here, I write about three verses of a certain poem, and about a half-remembered lullaby which I may or may not have heard.



28 May 2013

music / taste / listening

For the last few weeks I’ve been very absorbed with writing my next book, and with a side project of short satirical dialogues (in which I try to mix Lucianus of Samosata’s satires with a 21st-century version of Daniil Kharms, only concerned with the aural… More on these soon) and I haven’t got many words left for this blog.

So I thought I’d post some music instead.

Spotify might not be perfect, but at least I can try… Although I’d rather the music be played without a list of names and titles.
Anyway: every now and then I will be posting playlists with not much coherence other than the unsound glue of ‘what I like’. They are, most of all, driven by the need to return to certain sounds and songs, by the need to put music back in the picture, to understand why I return to certain sounds and songs and, why not, to prompt reflections on taste and aesthetic understanding, which I feel are very much needed.
What are we attracted to? What do we like? How?

So here’s the first one and I already cannot wait to post one soon on old Italian pop songs.

More soon and I hope you’ll enjoy. It’s 10pm so I will start with nighttime music.

24 May 2013

an obscure vegetable resolution

I’ve visited twice the Karl Blossfeldt exhibition currently on show at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and I will be there many more times until it closes.

Georges Bataille, The Language of Flowers: ‘It is vain to consider, in the appearance of things, only the intelligible signs…’


24 May 2013

that which flows

Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance (1910):


I have floundered somewhat ineffectually through the slough of philology, but I look forward to the time when it will be possible for the lover of poetry to study poetry — even the poetry of recondite times and places — without burdening himself with the rags of morphology, epigraphy, privatleben and the kindred delights of the archaeological or “scholarly” mind. I make no plea for superficiality. But I consider it quite as justifiable that a man should wish to study the poetry and nothing but the poetry of a certain period, as that he should study its antiquities, phonetics or paleography and be, at the end of his labours, incapable of discerning a refinement of style or a banality of diction.

. . .

There are a number of sciences connected with the study of literature. There is in literature itself the Art, which is not, and never will be, a science.
Art is a fluid moving above or over the minds of men.
Having violated one canon of modern prose by this metaphysical generality, I shall violate another. I shall make a florid and metaphorical comparison.
Art or an art is not unlike a river. It is perturbed at times by the quality of the river bed, but is in a way independent of that bed. The color of the water depends upon the substance of the bed and banks immediate and preceding. Stationary objects are reflected, but the quality of motion is of the river. The scientist is concerned with all of these things, the artist with that which flows.

24 May 2013


[More excerpts from my research notes]

. . . . . .

I read some words by James Clifford: ‘A disciplinary habitus has been established around the embodied activity of fieldwork,’ he wrote sixteen years ago in his book Routes. Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century as he questioned ‘the habitus of the neutral eye’ in fieldwork and looked at the margins, at fringe activities such as the journals of travel writers, not constrained by diktats of ethnographical practice and free to explore instead more tormented questions that arise or are silenced when visiting a place. The habitus of the neutral ear often creeps into evaluations of recordings. Where do we stop treating a record as a document and begin considering it as an open field for entangled subjectivities?

Art versus Document. The dissident Surrealists were no strangers to the slippery edge between the two, their periodical Documents (1929-30) attested the imaginary and subversive potential in mutual crossing over between what is deemed objective (a ‘document’) and what is not. The unsettling impact of these documents is a function of the editing glance (in our case, ear) that deploys it. The notion that a recording/document is *only* an intact, unchangeable, objective source and ‘not art’, masks some practitioners’ unwillingness to come to grips with aesthetic and conceptual considerations.
Documents are not intact, unchangeable; recordings, every time we play them, are escapes out of fixity. Not a still aural presence, but a mutable entity that allows the listeners to slide into the space of their own fictions, hesitations, questions, not the certainty of a pre-set agenda. I’m interested in the shift from real to fiction and the sliding back from fiction to real that occurs every time we are confronted with recorded sounds. They prompt rather than document, they prompt the listener not to classify, but to interpolate. No recording can coincide with the event of each experience of hearing, and a recording is not a time-capsule-on-demand (the madeleine was an accident, not an enforcement of memory deliberately picked from a tidily organised collection of keepsakes). Time cannot be kept, we live and listen with records and documents, not because of them.

Now I think of the field of my experience, not recorded, but recalled. Where, and how do I articulate it, when I recall in listening and reading and then I write? Rather than considering memory, I’d like to think of the history of a memory, as it moves from fixed document to yet another reinvention, slightly different every other time, transformative and entangled. I think of sounds for which there cannot be any trace, no record, and what I can make with them. Once more I think of fabulation. Fable in the Renaissance was artificium occultandi, artifice of concealment. Think of all the veils, the tricks and devices that I can deploy. Therefore I cannot believe in the existing rhetoric around heritage and collections as frozen and transparent sites of permanence. I think of my heritage consumed into the spaces of reinvention, yet another artificium occultandi. It is a sense of unknown or ungraspable drift, that recordings can trigger. Not as untouchable documents calling for classifications or taxonomies, but eliciting what is not there: a shift, or, as I read in Landings by Richard Skelton, an attraction toward ‘the inert space that borders’ each sound.

To listen away from a place always tips over to listening in another place.

10 May 2013

quite unreal and like a dream

I’m writing a part of my book about being other, in another place.
Writing, thinking, feeling the sensory overload encountered while reading Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea:

There were trailing pink flowers on the table and the name echoed pleasantly in my head. Coralita Coralita. The food, though, too highly seasoned, was lighter and more appetizing than anything I had tasted in Jamaica. We drank champagne. A great many moths and beetles found their way into the room, flew into the candles and fell dead on the tablecloth. Amélie swept them up with a crumb brush. Uselessly. More moths and beetles came.

‘Is it true,’ she said, ‘that England is like a dream? Because one of my friends who married an Englishman wrote and told me so. She said this place London is like a cold dark dream sometimes. I want to wake up.’
‘Well’, I answered annoyed, ‘that is precisely how your beautiful island seems to me, quite unreal and like a dream.’
‘But how can rivers and mountains and the sea be unreal?’
‘And how can millions of people, their houses and their streets be unreal?’
‘More easily,’ she said, ‘much more easily. Yes a big city must be like a dream.’
‘No, this is unreal and like a dream,’ I thought.

The long veranda was furnished with canvas chairs, two hammocks, and a wooden table on which stood a tripod telescope. Amélie brought out candles with glass shades but the night swallowed up the feeble light. There was a very strong scent of flowers – the flowers by the river that open at night she told me – and the noise, subdued in the inner room, was deafening. ‘Crac-cracs,’ she explained, ‘they make a sound like their name, and crickets and frogs.’

1 May 2013

caves, sybil, recordings

On the 16th of June 2007 I walked with artist and friend Paolo Inverni, for an hour, inside an underground cave at Rio Martino in Piemonte, North-West of Italy. The cave stretches into the core of a mountain in the Alps, along two levels of underground tunnels, for about two miles, in total darkness. The local council lists the following characteristics of the cave, to be considered by anybody who might want to walk in it: humidity 100%, temperature 5.5°C, an underground river, walkways without handrails on both sides, relatively low ceilings in some places, jagged outcrops at head level on the sides of the walls.

The underground river can be a route to follow or a hindrance. In the points where the water level is low, the riverbed is a guiding path. When the water does not allow you to walk in the riverbed, you are forced to clamber along slippery edges on the sides.

Inside the cave, darkness looms and one false step could be fatal. The sense of danger is not only physical. Only once did I stop walking and felt overwhelmed, although I’m unsure as to why: was it the darkness that the lights on our helmets barely disrupted, the awareness of being so out of reach, the lack of living organisms around, the uncanny reverberations of our voices, the oppression that engulfed me as soon as I entered? To quote Jules Verne in Journey to the Centre of the Earth: I felt lost. ‘As long as you stay close to the walls you’re safe’, my friend said. But the walls are slippery. We could only walk and keep walking. Long stretches of silence were only interrupted by brief communications, episodes of strange play and remoteness.

At the end of the cave, after walking for an hour between the river and the walls of rock, a sudden change: a sudden blast of cold air, countless drops of chilled water against my face, and a roar amplified out of proportion. This is what we came here for: an underground waterfall, one of the highest in Europe, cascading from a height of fifty-five meters. In the darkness of the cave, I could not see the waterfall: I could feel it, and hear it.

We could barely talk. And there was no way to do an audio recording of the experience of encountering the waterfall after the hour-long walk underground, we’d have come up with shapeless noise anyway. Better to listen. And think of another type of recording, in the words that would follow the waterfall.

Then we had to get out of the cave. Another hour-long walk through a tunnel of black and silence faintly measured by tiny water drops. In the walk back did the afterlife of the waterfall, and perhaps its sense for us, begin to form: not just because we had been there but because we had walked away from it, with no actual recordings to bring back, and yet still hearing it reverberating in the tunnels of our recollections. We didn’t have an audio file with us, but that didn’t mean the experience would vanish.

The first thing I noticed once I walked out, after adjusting to the blinding light of the mid-afternoon, was a patch of lichens. I thought of Camillo Sbarbaro, an Italian poet who wrote broken verses of small utterances at the beginning of the 20th century. He also collected lichens. Often he would write of his words becoming mineral, and himself too. At the end of the thirties, after a visit to a cave, he wrote, in a collection called Wood Shavings: ‘What remained inside me of what I’d felt, was what is left of a whispering; something incredible, which I seemed to “hear through”; the wonder it gave me dwells on. And if that place is vague to the memory, as the place pointed at by the Sybil’s reply, then the fear of not capturing the place sharpened my yearning.’ I want to dwell in this state of sharpened yearning and ‘hearing through’, and write of caves and voice Sybil’s words; to dwell in these transitions between being in a place and the premonition of its absence, when it has not reached me, yet I can feel its chill.

Sbarbaro speaks of the Sybil. Only a few months ago, while choosing the cover of my book En abime, I opted for a picture of the Sybil’s cave in Cuma near where I was born, in Southern Italy. A cave, an abyss, a Sybil, a poet. A poet, a Sybil, an abyss, a cave, also animate a poem which I always enjoy reading aloud, it’s entitled Spelt from Sybil’s Leaves and it is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s got cavernous spaces, black, lost words and broken utterance, and I have nothing more to say to you about this poem which is so close to what I want to say. I’d rather let these words break into mine. So:


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