Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jeanette Winterson - Written on the Body

"Interior. Afternoon.A bedroom. Curtains half drawn. Bedclothes thrown back. A naked woman of a certain age lies on the bed looking at the ceiling. She wants to say something. She's finding it difficult. A cassette recorder is playing Ella Fitzgerald, 'Lady Sings the Blues.'


I wanted to tell you that I don’t usually do this. I suppose it’s called committing adultery. (She laughs.) I’ve never done it before. I don’t think I could do it again. With someone else that is. Oh I want to do it again with you. Over and over again. (She rolls on to her stomach.) I love my husband you know. I do love him. He’s not like other men. I couldn’t have married him if he was. He’s different, we’ve got a lot in common. We talk.

Her lover runs a finger over the bare lips of the naked woman. Lies over her, looks at her. The lover says nothing.


If I hadn’t met you, I suppose I would be looking for something. I might have done a degree at the Open University. I wasn’t thinking of this. I never wanted to give him a moment’s worry. That’s why I can’t tell him. Why we must be careful. I don’t want to be cruel and selfish. You see that, don’t you?

Her lover gets up and goes to the toilet. The naked woman raises herself on her elbow and continues her monologue in the direction of the en suite bathroom.


Don’t be long darling. (She pauses.) I’ve tried to get you out of my head but I can’t seem to get you out of my flesh. I think about your body day and night. When I try to read, it’s you I’m reading. When I sit down to eat it’s you I’m eating. When he touches me I think about you. I’m a middle-aged happily married woman and all I can see is your face. What have you done to me?

Cut to en suite bathroom. The lover is crying. End scene.

It’s flattering to believe that you and only you, the great lover, could have done this. That without you, the marriage, incomplete though it is, pathetic in many ways, would have thrived on its meager diet and if not thrived at least not shriveled. It has shriveled, lies limp and unused, the shell of a marriage, its occupants both fled. People collect shells don’t they? They spend money on them and display them on their window ledges. Other people admire them. I’ve seen some very famous shells and blown into the hollows of many more. Where I’ve left cracking too severe to mend the owners have simply turned the bad part to the shade.

See? Even here in this private place my syntax has fallen prey to the deceit. It was not I who did those things; cut the knot, jimmied the lock, made off with the goods not mine to take. The door was open. True, she didn’t exactly open it herself. Her butler opened it for her. His name was boredom. She said, ‘Boredom, fetch me a plaything.’ He said, ‘Very good ma’am,’ and putting on his white gloves so that the fingerprints would not show he tapped at my heart and I thought he said his name was love.

You think I’m trying to wriggle out of my responsibilities? No, I know what I did and what I was doing at the time. But I didn’t walk down the aisle, queue up at the Registry Office and swear to be faithful unto death. I wouldn’t dare. I didn’t say ‘With this ring I thee wed.’ I didn’t say, ‘With my body I thee worship.’ How can you say that to one person and then gladly fuck another? Shouldn’t you take that vow and break it the way you made it, in the open air?

Odd that marriage, a public display and free to all, gives way to that most secret of liaisons, an adulterous affair."

London: Vintage, 1992 P14-16

Monday, April 13, 2009

Haruki Murakami - A Wild Sheep Chase

"Through the kitchen window I could see the neighbor's oleander. Far off, someone was practicing piano. It sounded like tripping down an up escalator. On a telephone pole, three plump pigeons burbled mindlessly away. Something had to be on their mind to be going on like that, maybe the pain from the corns on their feet, who knows? From the pigeons' point of view, probably it was I who looked mindless.

As I stuffed the second piece of toast down my gullet, the pigeons disappeared, leaving only the telephone pole and the oleander.

It was Sunday morning. The newspaper's weekend section included a color photo of a horse jumping a hedge. Astride the horse, an ill-complexioned rider in a black cap casting a baleful gaze at the next page, which featured a lengthy description of hundreds of varieties of orchids, each with a history of its own. Royalty had been known to die for the sake of orchids. Orchids had an ineffable odor of fatalism. And on the article went. To all things, philosophy and fate."

New York: Vintage, 1989 P161-162.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Carl Sagan - The Demon-Haunted World

"Some people consider science arrogant - especially when it purports to contradict beliefs of long standing or when it introduces bizarre concepts that seem contradictory to common sense. Like an earthquake that rattles our faith in the very ground we're standing on, challenging our accustomed beliefs, shaking the doctrines we have grown to rely upon can be profoundly disturbing. Nevertheless, I maintain that science is part and parcel humility. Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find. We are aware that revered scientists have been wrong. We understand human imperfection. We insist on independent and - to the extent possible - quantitative verification of proposed tenets of belief. We are constantly prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs."

"Science is different from any other human enterprise - not, of course, in its practitioners being influenced by the culture they grew up in, nor in sometimes being right and sometimes being wrong (which are common to every human activity), but in its passion for framing testable hypotheses, in its search for definitive experiments that confirm or deny ideas, in the vigor of its substantive debate, and in its willingness to abandon ideas that have been found wanting. If we were not aware of our own limitations, though, if we were not seeking further data, if we were unwilling to perform controlled experiments, if we did not respect the evidence, we would have very little leverage in our quest for the truth. Through opportunism and timidity we might then be buffeted by every ideological breeze, with nothing of lasting value to hang on to."

New York: Ballantine Books, 1996. P32-33, P263.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

László Moholy-Nagy - Vision In Motion

“Theoretically, man is the sum total of his psychophysical, intellectual, and emotional potentialities. His reasoning power parallels the emotional forces. What he knows, he could also feel if he would train himself in both spheres. In fact, this is his historic struggle, to arrive at an integrated life in which he would function to the fullest of his capacities through a synthesis of the intellectual and the emotional, through the coordination of penetrative thinking and profound feeling. To reach this goal – to feel what we know and know what we feel – is one of the tasks of our generation.

One of the functions of the artist in society is to put layer upon layer, stone upon stone, in the organization of emotions; to record feelings with his particular means, to give structure and refinement as well as direction to the inner life of his contemporaries. It is the artist’s duty today to penetrate yet-unseen ranges of the biological functions, to search the new dimensions of the industrial society and to translate the new findings into emotional orientation. The artist unconsciously disentangles the most essential strands of existence from the contorted and chaotic complexities of actuality, and weaves them into an emotional fabric of compelling validity, characteristic of himself as well as of his epoch.”

Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1969. P11

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tom Stoppard - Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead

ROS: Oh no - we've been spinning coins for as long as I remember.
GUIL: How long is that?
ROS: I forget. Mind you - eighty-five times!
GUIL: Yes?
ROS: It'll take some time beating, I imagine.
GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?
ROS: Fear?
GUIL (in fury - flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!
ROS: Heads... (He puts it in his bag.)
(GUIL sits despondently. He takes a coin, spins it, lets it fall between his feet. He looks at it, picks it up; throws it to ROS, who puts it in his bag.)
(GUIL takes another coin, spins it, catches it, turns it over on to his other hand, looks at it, and throws it to ROS who puts it in his bag.)
(GUIL takes a third coin, spins it, catches it in his right hand, turns it over on to his left wrist, lobs it in the air, catches it with his left hand, raises his left leg, throws the coin up under it, catches it and turns it over on to the top of his head, where it sits. ROS comes, looks at it, puts it in his bag.)
ROS: I'm afraid -
GUIL: So am I.
ROS: I'm afraid it isn't your day.
GUIL: I'm afraid it is.
(Small pause.)
ROS: Eighty-nine.
GUIL: It must be indicative of something, besides the redistribution of wealth. (He muses.) List of possible explanations. One: I'm willing it. Inside where nothing shows, I'm the essence of a man spinning double-headed coins, and betting against himself in private atonement for an unremembered past. (He spins a coin at ROS.)
ROS: Heads.
GUIL: Two: time has stopped dead, and a single experience of one coin being spun once has been repeated ninety times... (He flips a coin, looks at it, tosses it to ROS.) On the whole, doubtful. Three: divine intervention, that is to say, a good turn from above concerning him, cf. children of Israel, or retribution from above concerning me, cf. Lot's wife. Four: a spectacular vindication of the principle that each individual coin spun individually (he spins one) is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does. (It does. He tosses it to ROS.)
ROS: I've never known anything like it!
GUIL: And syllogism: One, he has never known anything like it. Two: he has never known anything to write home about. Three, it's nothing to write home about... Home... What's the first thing you remember?
ROS: Oh, let's see...The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?
GUIL: No - the first thing you remember.
ROS: Ah. (Pause.) No, it's no good, it's gone. It was a long time ago.
GUIL (patient but edged): You don't get my meaning. What is the first thing after all the things you've forgotten?
ROS: Oh. I see. (Pause.) I've forgotten the question.
GUIL: How long have you suffered from a bad memory?
ROS: I can't remember.
(GUIL paces.)
GUIL: Are you happy?
ROS: What?
GUIL: Content? At ease?
ROS: I suppose so.
GUIL: What are you going to do now?
ROS: I don't know. What do you want to do?
GUIL: I have no desires. None. (He stops pacing dead.) There was a messenger... that's right. We were sent for. (He wheels at ROS and raps out.) Syllogism the second: one: probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two: probability is not operating as a factor. Three: we are now within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. Discuss.
(ROS is suitably startled - Acidly.) Not too heatedly.
ROS: I'm sorry, I - What's the matter with you?
GUIL: A scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear. Keep tight hold and continue while there's time. Now - counter to the previous syllogism: tricky one, follow me carefully, it may prove a comfort. If we postulate, and we just have, that within un-, sub- or supernatural forces the probability is that the law of probability will not operate as a factor, then we must accept that the probability of the first part will not operate as a factor, in which case the law of probability will operate as a factor within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. And since it obviously hasn't been doing so, we can take it that we are not held within un-, sub- or supernatural forces after all; in all probability, that is. Which is a great relief to me personally. (Small pause.) Which is all very well, except that - (He continues with tight hysteria, under control.) We have been spinning coins together since I don't know when, and in all that time (if it is all that time) I don't suppose either of us was more than a couple of gold pieces up or down. I hope that doesn't sound surprising because it's very unsurprisingness is something I am trying to keep hold of. The equanimity of your average pitcher and tosser of coins depends upon a law, or rather a tendency, or let us say a probability, or at any rate a mathematically calculable chance, which ensures that he will not upset himself by losing too much nor upset his opponent by winning too often. This made for a kind of harmony and a kind of confidence. It related the fortuitous and ordained into a reassuring union which we recognised as nature. The sun came up about as often as it went down, in the long run, and a coin showed heads about as often as it showed tails. Then a messenger arrived. We had been sent for. Nothing else happened. Ninety-two coins spun consecutively have come down heads ninety-two consecutive times... and for the last three minutes on the wind of a windless day I have heard the sound of drums and flute...
ROS (cutting his fingernails): Another curious scientific phenomenon is the fact that the fingernails grow after death, as does the beard.
GUIL: What?
ROS (loud): Beard!
GUIL: But you're not dead.
ROS (irritated): I didn't say they started to grow after death! (Pause, calmer.) The fingernails also grow before birth, though not the beard.
GUIL: What?
ROS (shouts): Beard! What's the matter with you? (Reflectively.) The toenails, on the other hand, never grow at all.
GUIL (bemused): The toenails never grow at all?
ROS: Do they? It's a funny thing - I cut my fingernails all the time, and every time I think to cut them, they need cutting. Now, for instance. And yet, I never, to the best of my knowledge, cut my toenails. They ought to be curled under my feet by now, but it doesn't happen. I never think about them. Perhaps I cut them absent-mindedly, when I'm thinking of something else.
GUIL (tensed up by this rambling): Do you remember the first thing that happened today?
ROS (promptly): I woke up, I suppose. (Triggered.) Oh - I've got it now - that man, a foreigner, he woke us up -
GUIL: A messenger. (He relaxes, sits.)
ROS: That's it - pale sky before dawn, a man standing on his saddle to bang on the shutters - shouts - What's all the row about?! Clear off! - but then he called our names. You remember that - this man woke us up.
GUIL: Yes.
ROS: We were sent for.
GUIL: Yes.
ROS: That's why we're here. (He looks round, seems doubtful, then the explanation.) Travelling.
GUIL: Yes.
New York: Grove Press, 1967. P15-19.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jean-Paul Sartre - Nausea

"I feel so far away from them, on the top of the hill. It seems as though I belong to another species. They come out of their offices after their day of work, they look at the houses and the squares with satisfaction, they think it is
their city, a good, solid, bourgeois city. They aren't afraid, they feel at home. All they have ever seen is trained water running from taps, light which fills bulbs when you turn on the switch, half-breed, bastard trees held up with crutches. They have proof, a hundred times a day, that everything happens mechanically, that the world obeys fixed, unchangeable laws. In a vacuum all bodies fall at the same rate of speed, the public park is closed at 4 p.m. in winter, 6 p.m. in summer, lead melts at 335 degrees centigrade, the last streetcar leaves the Hotel de Ville at 11.05 p.m. They are peaceful, a little morose, they think about Tomorrow, that is to say, simply, a new today; cities have only one day at their disposal and every morning it comes back exactly the same. They scarcely doll it up a bit on Sundays. Idiots. It is repugnant to me to think that I am going to see their thick, self-satisfied faces. They make laws, they write popular novels, they get married, they are fools enough to have children. And all this time, great, vague nature has slipped into their city, it has infiltrated everywhere, in their house, in their office, in themselves. It doesn't move, it stays quitely and they are full of it inside. They breathe it, and they don't see it, they imagine it to be outside, twenty miles from the city. I see it, I see this nature... I know that its obedience is idleness, I know it has no laws: what they take for constancy is only habit and it can change tomorrow.

What if something were to happen? What if something suddenly started throbbing? Then they would notice it was there and they'd think their hearts were going to burst. Then what good would their dykes, bulwarks, power houses, furnaces and pile drivers be to them? It can happen any time, perhaps right now: the omens are present. For example, the father of a family might go out for a walk, and, across the street, he'll see something like a red rag, blown towards him by the wind. And when the rag has gotten close to him he'll see that it is a side of rotten meat, grimy with dust, dragging itself along by crawling, skipping, a piece of writhing flesh rolling in the gutter, spasmodically shooting out spurts of blood. Or a mother might look at her child's cheek and ask him: "What's that - a pimple?" and see the flesh puff out a little, split, open, and at the bottom of the split an eye, a laughing eye might appear. Or they might feel things gently brushing against their bodies, like the caresses of reeds to swimmers in a river. And they will realize that their clothing has become living things. And someone else might feel something scratching in his mouth. He goes to the mirror, opens his mouth: and his tongue is an enormous, live centipede, rubbing its legs together and scraping his palate. He'd like to spit it out, but the centipede is a part of him and he will have to tear it out with his own hands. And a crowd of things will appear for which people will have to find new names - stone-eye, great three-cornered arm, toe-crutch, spider-jaw. And someone might be sleeping in his comfortable bed, in his quiet, warm room, and wake up naked on a bluish earth, in a forest of rustling birch trees, rising red and white towards the sky like the smokestacks of Jouxtebouville, with big bumps half-way out of the ground, hairy and bulbous like onions. And birds will fly around these birch trees and pick at them with their beaks and make them bleed. Sperm will flow slowly, gently, from these wounds, sperm mixed with blood, warm and glassy with little bubbles. Or else nothing like that will happen, there will be no appreciable change, but one morning people will open their blinds and be surprised by a sort of frightful sixth sense, brooding heavily over things and seeming to pause. Nothing more than that: but for the little time it lasts, there will be hundreds of suicides. Yes! Let it change just a little, just to see, I don't ask for anything better. Then you will see other people, suddenly plunged into solitude. Men all alone, completely alone with horrible monstrosities, will run through the streets, pass heavily in front of me, their eyes staring, fleeing their ills yet carrying them with them, open-mouthed, with their insect-tongue flapping its wings. Then I'll burst out laughing even though my body may be covered with filthy, infected scabs which blossom into flowers of flesh, violets, buttercups. I'll lean against a wall and when they go by I'll shout: "What's the matter with your science? What have you done with your humanism? Where is your dignity?" I will not be afraid - or at least no more than now. Will it not still be existence, variations on existence? All these eyes which will slowly devour a face - they will undoubtedly be too much, but no more so than the first two, Existence is what I am afraid of."

New York: New Directions, 1964 (2007). P158-160.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thomas McEvilley - Sculpture in the Age of Doubt.

"In the various religious conflicts, such as the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which have convulsed Europe, the point has been to hold exactly the right opinions; even a slight difference of opinion between, say, a Catholic and a Protestant is enough to bring a sentence of death on the one who is judged to be mistaken and, after death, an eternal sentence of punishment in Hell. In Christian or Islamic wars about dogma, it is true that nothing, literally nothing at all, is more important than the correctness of the opinions one holds - and this even though the opinions in question deal with matters that are obviously unknowable. Granted the intense weight that is placed on opinions, skeptical claims are regarded as foolish or parodic because it is assumed that they are clearly untrue and therefore to hold them could only be a deliberate perversity meant for the sake of being outrageous for the amusement of others. Even in today's supposedly secularized Western society, students recieve with derision, as if they were jokes, the three propositions of the skeptical Greek philosopher Gorgias: (1) that nothing exists, (2) that if anything does exist, it can never be known, and (3) that if, perchance, something exists and can be known, it can never be communicated to anyone else. Yet in the Greek tradition and in several other great philosophical traditions, this attitude is no joke, but has serious underlying purposes."

New York: Allworth Press, 1999. P6.