Going beyond the zero

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“But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice—guessed and refused to believe—that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children….”

Reader, I read it. It isn’t an admission of great achievement to announce that you’ve reached the last page of a novel after a handful of stalled attempts, but when it’s taken me 36 years to reach this point it feels worthy of note; and besides which, Gravity’s Rainbow isn’t an ordinary novel. Umberto Eco is partly responsible for my return to Pynchon. I’d just finished The Name of the Rose, a book I’d avoided for years even while reading (and enjoying) a couple of Eco’s other novels, and was wondering what to read next. Maybe it was time to try the Rocket book again? The thick white spine of the Picador edition—760 pages in 10pt type—would accuse me every time I spotted it on the shelf: “Still haven’t made it to page 100, have you?” For many people this happens with novels because a book is “difficult” (which I didn’t think it was), or boring (which it isn’t at all), or simply too long (page count doesn’t put me off). Back in 1985 I was looking for more heavyweight fare after reading Ulysses, something I’ve now done several times, so I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a novel which is misleadingly compared to Ulysses on its back cover. If anything the comparison was an enticing one. Pynchon at the time exerted a gravitational pull (so to speak) for being very mysterious, although this was a decade when most living authors, especially foreign ones, were mysterious to a greater degree than they are today, when so many have their own websites and social media profiles. Pynchon’s works were also referred to in interesting places, unlike his less mysterious contemporaries. I may be misremembering but I seem to recall a mention of the W.A.S.T.E. enigma from The Crying of Lot 49 in Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!; if it is there then it’s no surprise that a writer so preoccupied with conspiracy and paranoia would find favour with the authors of the ultimate conspiracy novel. (And that’s not all. I’m surprised now by the amount of coincidental correspondence between Illuminatus! and Gravity’s Rainbow. Both novels were being written at the same time, the late 1960s, yet both refer to the Illuminati, the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill, Nazi occultism, and the death of John Dillinger. Both novels also acknowledge the precedent of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, another remarkable conflation of conspiracy, secret history, and wild invention.)

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Pynchon had other connections to the kind of fiction I was already interested in. One of his early short stories, Entropy, had been published in New Worlds magazine in 1969, although editor Michael Moorcock later claimed to have avoided reading any of the novels until much later. And, Pynchon, like Shea & Wilson (and Moorcock…), made pop-culture waves. I think it was Laurie Anderson who put Gravity’s Rainbow in the centre of my radar when she released Mister Heartbreak, an album whose third song, Gravity’s Angel, refers to the novel and is dedicated to its author. As for the novel itself, in the mid-1980s this was still Pynchon’s major work, the one that fully established his reputation. Nothing new had appeared since its publication in 1973; Vineland, and the subsequent acceleration of the authorial production line, was six years away. The final lure was the refusal of the Picador edition to communicate very much of its contents: what was this thick volume actually about? The back cover is filled with praise but doesn’t tell you anything about the novel at all, while the cover illustration by Anita Kunz suggests a scenario connected with the Second World War but little else. (“This was one of the most complicated books I ever read,” says the artist, “and really hard to get the germ of the idea. Pynchon kept going off in tangents. I mixed up the art the same way the writer did and made an image that can be read in all directions.”) It’s only when you start reading the book that you find the connection between the novel’s dominant concerns—the development of the V-2 rockets used by the Nazis to bomb London, and the erotic compulsions of Tyrone Slothrop, an American lieutenant at large in war-ravaged Europe—subtly reflected in the illustration, much more subtly than the cover art on the edition that preceded this one.

Continue reading “Going beyond the zero”

Weekend links 470

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A rail station in ruins by Tokyo Genso. From a series of views of Tokyo showing a ruined and abandoned city.

• Old music technology of the week: The EKO ComputeRhythm, a programmable drum machine from 1972 used by Chris Franke (who didn’t like the sounds so he used it to trigger other instruments), Manuel Göttsching (the rhythms on New Age Of Earth), and Jean-Michel Jarre (on Equinoxe); and Yuri Suzuki‘s digital reconstruction of Raymond Scott’s Electronium.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Ishmael Reed Mumbo Jumbo (1972), and DC’s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of the year so far. Thanks again for the link here!

• “Pauline told her to shove her shyckle up her khyber.” Philip Hensher on the origins and revival of Polari, the secret gay argot. Related: a Polari word list, plus other links.

In Star, Mishima fuses his major theme of the mask, the public role all humans are destined to play out, with the theme of suicide, an act which Mishima considered a work of art. All of his work is punctuated by suicide, and it is peopled with masks, with people knowing they are nothing but masks, who are aware that the center doesn’t hold because there is no center, that character is a flowing fixture, a paradoxical constancy and a definite variable, always.

Jan Wilm on Star, a novella by Yukio Mishima receiving its first publication in English

• “How have these places managed to transform from monuments to atrocity and resistance into concrete clickbait?” Owen Hatherley on the popularity of spomeniks.

• The late George Craig on translating the scrawl of Samuel Beckett’s letters (written in French) into coherent English.

• Outsider Literature, Part 1: a Wormwoodiana guide by RB Russell.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 291 by Arturas Bumsteinas.

Symbiose, a split album by Prana Crafter and Tarotplane.

Robby Müller’s Polaroids

Apollo 11 in Real-time

Tokyo Shyness Boy (1976) by Haruomi Hosono | Tokyo (1979) by Jean-Claude Eloy | Tokyosaka Train (2002) by Funki Porcini

Weekend links 455

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• At Expanding Mind: Tarot expert Mary Greer talks with Erik Davis about Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith, the Golden Dawn, the art of illustration, Jung’s active imagination, Smith’s musical visions, and the recent study of Smith’s life and work, Pamela Colman Smith: the Untold Story.

• Almost five years have passed since the last album from Earth (if you discount the Bug vs. Earth collaboration Concrete Desert) but the band will release a new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, in May. Cats On The Briar is a taster.

Charles Bramesco on Sergei Bondarchuk’s astonishing 7-hour adaptation of War and Peace. I watched the whole thing last weekend: all superlatives are justified.

• The History of the Future: James Conway on leaving Australia for a life in Berlin and publishing. Related: Where is Rixdorf?

• At Spoon & Tamago: Keisuke Aiso‘s artworks, including the Ubume sculpture that became the face of the Momo Challenge hoax.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 282 by Tourist Gaze, and Big Sister’s Scratchy Singles Vol 1 by radioShirley.

Alexander Rose on the 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight.

Rebecca Cole and Janise Elie go in search of the Brocken spectre on Burley Moor.

M. John Harrison: Critical Essays, edited by Rhys Williams and Mark Bould.

Forest of Resonating Lamps – One Stroke, Cherry Blossoms by teamLab.

• Tour de France: Jonathan Meades selects 13 exercise-bike Classics.

• At Greydogtales: The Cthulhu Mythos for Beginners.

The Black Tower (1987), a short film by John Smith.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean Rollin Day.

Ishmael Reed doesn’t like Hamilton.

Babylonian Tower (1982) by Minimal Compact | The Tower (Black Advance) (2007) by Mordant Music | The Tower (Empty Fortress) (2007) by Mordant Music

Weekend links 425

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Art by Ichiro Tsuruta.

• “Writing is so much about subverting dogmatisms of all kinds, above all the ones that insist you cannot go there! You must not say that! Writers need to go anywhere, to take anything on. And the only rule is to do it well.” Rikki Ducornet in a feature at Dennis Cooper’s which has been linked here before but was previously on DC’s old (now deleted) blog.

• “This book-cover trend is turning bookstores into flower shops,” says Kenzie Bryant. “How publishing’s floral-print trend came to rule the world’s bookshelves.” (Where “the world” means the USA, as usual…)

• The third edition of Wyrd Daze—”The multimedia zine of speculative fiction + extra-ordinary music, art & writing”—is out now.

For this listener, Nardis has become a full-on musical obsession. I have more than ninety official and bootleg recordings of the tune stored in the cloud, ranked in a fluid and continually updated order of preference, so they follow me wherever I go. In my travels as a writer, I use Nardis as a litmus test of musical competence: if I see a jazz band in a bar or a busker taking requests, I inevitably suggest it. (If they’ve never heard of it, I understand that they must be new at this game.) By now I’ve heard so many different interpretations, in such a far-flung variety of settings, that a Platonic ideal of the melody resides in my mind untethered to any actual performance. It’s as if Nardis were always going on somewhere, with players dropping in and out of a musical conversation beyond space and time.

Steve Silberman on the obsession that he and pianist Bill Evans share with Nardis, a Miles Davis composition that Davis himself never recorded

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 263 by Jung An Tagen, and XLR8R Podcast 554 by Tutu.

• “René Magritte still has the power to surprise,” says Sophie Haigney.

Ishmael Reed at the Brockport Writers Forum, 1st May, 1974.

• The On-U Sound label is now at Bandcamp.

Brian Eno talks music, global politics, etc.

Faded Flowers (1985) by Shriekback | Other Flowers (2003) by Harold Budd | White Flowers (2014) by Lutine

Weekend links 300

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Observatoire IX from the Observatoires series by Noemie Goudal.

• “Before Lady Raglan’s intervention, this figure had been anonymous. She gave him a name: the Green Man.” Josephine Livingstone on the persistence of a supposed figure from pagan folklore.

Ben Wheatley: “Financing a film as crazy as [High-Rise] takes good casting”. Related (in a Ballardian sense): the abandoned hotels of the Sinai Desert.

• “We were in danger of becoming full-time, paid up musicians…” Drew Daniel and Martin “MC” Schmidt of Matmos look back over their career.

Fahey didn’t make many new friends with his scything dismissal of the folk revival. He distrusted the way that folkies regarded music as a carrier for the correct political messages of the moment. As Lowenthal puts it: “To him, the student idealists had naïve worldviews and dreamed of unrealistic political utopias,” whereas Fahey “attempted to channel darkness and dread through his music.” For Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger devotees, the ideological message came first, with musical tone or trickery a distant second. As Fahey saw it, the dizzyingly strange source music they borrowed from and then built their careers on emerged as little more than a scrubbed-up ventriloquist’s doll, all the coarse grain and troubling metaphysic of its original voices jettisoned. He also detected high condescension and low reverse racism in how the folk-revival people preferred their old blues guys barefoot and wearing dungarees—even if they now usually dressed in sharp suits and often preferred to play amplified, electric urban blues.

Ian Penman on John Fahey

• “It’s amazing how quickly a sound can lose its moorings and float off into this kind of unchartered territory,” says Robin The Fog.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 540 by Via App, and Secret Thirteen Mix 178 by BlackBlackGold.

Oliver Wainwright on Edward Johnston, designer of the typeface for the London Underground.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: DC’s: Spotlight on…The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967) by Ishmael Reed.

Each drop of Hennessy X.O is an Odyssey: Nicolas Winding Refn makes an alcohol ad.

Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock pen an open letter to the next generation of artists.

Japan’s scariest manga artist (Junji Ito) loves Japan’s creepiest cosplayer (Ikura).

• “He was a sexual outlaw.” Jack Fritscher‘s love affair with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Peter De Rome: the RAF pilot who became “the grandfather of gay porn”.

The Strange Case of Mr William T. Horton

• RIP Big George Martin and Ken Adam.

Shortwave Radio World

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Nine Feet Underground (1971) by Caravan | Green Bubble Raincoated Man (1972) by Amon Düül II | Betyárnóta (Outlaw Song, 1989) by Muzsikás