Sunday, 23 October 2011

Too Nice to Leave

Our past should be like an historic monument we visit now and then, with its impressive rooms and expensive paintings, its silver cutlery and the Dresden dinner service locked safely away.   All so beautiful, we should say, as we go from room to room.  Or it as an amusing vignette we use to liven up dull company, that pregnant moment after the heavy desert, for example.   A few words, a story, sometimes a striking image, all the original things that have happened in this place; and then you shut the door, and talk about Margaret and Alice from PR, and how Rebecca found them together in the disabled toilet. 

When everyone has left you should walk out of the door and get into the car, and leave the distant gates of this country estate behind; until the next time; when you will drive down a different road, and enter some other house.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

An Odd Place

The past is dangerous.  Although for scientists with their simple certainties such an obvious truth is easily overlooked.  For a mouse, they say, and their experiments show it, the past holds no dangers; gone for one minute it returns again safely to the present.  100% success!  They assure him safety is guaranteed, for a mouse that is, and they tell him so, so he knows for sure that risks are possible. 

They are rightly proud of their achievement; but it is a limited one: they put the mouse into a past they know nothing about.  What is it like there?  What exactly is its experience? They are curious, but their experiments do not take them very far; and in fact they can go no further.  If now a man…   They search for someone prepared to take the risk; someone, they think, who has lost all interest in life; a failed suicide seems a good idea.

Monday, 10 October 2011


The Market

He is writing about universities in America.  But what he is actually describing is how markets really work.

The US university system, by contrast, appears to concentrate a hugely disproportionate share of resources in a small group of very wealthy and exclusive private institutions.  (Howard Hotson, Don’t Look to the Ivy League)

This is one effect, amongst many.  The heavy concentration at the top raises the price of admission, as demand is high but supply is limited; for there are few places in the most prestigious universities.  It is only towards the bottom, at the Primark end of the spectrum, that prices will reduce to a level the majority can afford.  Higher education for everyone!  Although the good stuff is only available for those with the biggest wallets; the small print to which our politicians never refer.  The newer universities cannot compete with Oxford and Cambridge, and the select Redbricks: you cannot manufacture an elite university over a couple of years; and it is not a product that can be made cheaply and sold to everyone at a low price.  These institutions have a history and a culture that cannot be easily reproduced; a culture that is attractive both to the faculty and its wealthy patrons; although each for their own reasons – the one academic, the other social and instrumental.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

New Gods

This is no ordinary hotel.  You do not stay for a few days, reconnoitre the territory, and go.  This is not a hotel where you rent a room by the hour, and wear yourself out under the local businessmen.  It’s not a place you pose for fancy shots in cheap lingerie; the hotel price the cost of tawdry fame.  People stay so long here they die in its beds.  It is a home for some; a death sentence for others.  Santschin is killed by off by the laundry steam that invades his family’s room.  If only we were reading Tennyson, we’d imagine it as a mist off the marshes; but there are no illusions here; no large metaphors: it is just filthy fog, fatal for those who cannot afford the higher cost of comfort further down the stairs.  Santschin was a clown in a cabaret troupe; the whole crowd crammed into the small rooms at the top of the hotel; three narrow floors for the poor.  Poverty kills, even in the best place in town.

Friday, 7 October 2011


It is a mother.  Giving birth to herself.  Constantly.  Endlessly renewed, endlessly reborn; it is fresher, more fertile, richer, with each passing year.  Hosukai, for instance:

From the age of six I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things.  From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of any great note.  At the age of seventy-three I finally came to understand somewhat the nature of birds, animals, insects, fishes – the vital nature of grasses and trees.  Therefore, at eighty I shall have made great progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, and at one hundred I shall have become truly marvellous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own.  (in Japanese Art by Joan Stanley Baker)

The madness of being alive.  Forever.  

Perfection impossible

the artist aware always of his mistakes

even if he must create them.

Never finish.  You kill it, once the act is done.

Art: the eternal dissatisfaction.

He is seventy three and he is walking around an old print; over the bridges, down to the bay, back up to the new town, when suddenly he stops at a doorway.  There is an orchid in a pot on the floor.   Its white petals a picture; it pulsates with life, and everything vibrates around them.  Yet the petals are silent and still; like carefully placed stones in an austere garden.  They electrify this dark and empty space, white paper windows to the far side.   They are bold yet simple and they have possessed this small place.  White flowers in a black frame; the artist before them.  It is a quiet doorway.  They have possessed it and grabbed it to penetrate it completely; yet nothing moves, all remains quite still; utterly silent is the scene before him.  A cat pops out, and walks quietly out of the frame.

It will be thirty years before he gets that right.  Perhaps he never will.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Japanese Poetry

Art film.  It can suffer the same problems as lyric poetry.  Marvellous in short moments of crystallised atmosphere; but sinking into insipidity when extended into longer forms.  The intensity of a few stanzas stretched into monotony when strung out across hundreds of pages; with too many longueurs; too many dull images filling up the valley floors between the mountain peaks of the individual scintillating shot and the few extraordinary scenes.

It is the use of film as texture that marks out the art movie.  It thus lives with the ever-present danger of image overload; risking the failures of the “poetic” novel with too many inconsequential characters lost amongst too much description.  This Transient Life is no exception.  From the first moment to the last this film is dominated by its own surface; the camera shoving images between our willing eyelashes; Jiss├┤ji Akio some old train hand shovelling coal into the fire…