Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls

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Dr Martens’ Bouncing Souls

It didn’t hit me at first. Not straight away it didn’t. For a few long seconds there, the world was freeze-framed. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. All around, people emitted muffled sounds as if sporting ball-gags under water. Possibly swathed in cotton wool, they spoke in slow motion, their syllables hideously elongated like limbs on the rack. I distinctly recall being put in mind of an unravelling audio cassette, or one of those avant-garde sound poems that were all the rage back in the day. And then it hit me.
Hard.
Really hard.
Repeatedly.

To describe the pain as excruciating just wouldn’t do it justice. It was unspeakable, unsputterable; not even stutterable — utterly unutterable. What I can attempt to convey, however — to a certain degree, at least, though not, alas, to the third — is the unrelenting nature of the whole episode. I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. At a loss for words. Mouth agog, screaming on mute. Bent triple, pissing bleeding blood. Pummelled into that liminal zone beyond which no representation is possible. With the benefit of hindsight, I see it as a crash course in transgression, no less. Nothing would ever be the same again. Not quite. Not for me. Uh-uh. Blown was my mind. Rocked were my foundations. Shaken was my core. Topsy-turvy was my world. Over tit was my arse. And then it hit me again.
Hard.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly.
Repeatedly…

I blame it on Effie. Effing Effie and her fucking iffy frock. A brown flower-print number, the kind usually modelled by ladies of a certain age. Ladies who have long ceased to turn heads. Ladies who are fading away inexorably. Ladies who are almost invisible already. Ladies who, even as we speak, are being cut out of the equation with tiny toenail scissors. Slowly. Surely. Snip, snip — snip. But draped around Effie’s nubility it became impossibly erotic, as if the breath of life had suddenly been pumped into a long deflated blow-up doll. As if all the old biddies in their flower-print dresses were in bloom again, having magically recovered their pertness of yore. As if our very planet were a tight pair of bouncy buttocks and the whole wide universe had a massive hard-on.
Hard.
Really hard.
Rock-hard.
Rock on.

Blowing mellow bellows from below, a bracing breeze sported with the hem. Effie even had to hold it down on occasion, which lent her an air of charming vulnerability. Despite this precaution, and after a great deal of hemming and hawing, the flimsy material finally resolved to flare up, possibly in answer to the prayers of all those who had slowed down to admire the young lady’s graceful sway. Time almost came to a standstill as the dress made its giddy ascent in the manner of a Big Dipper inching up the steepest of Battersea slopes. I half expected to see tumbleweed blow by. Then suddenly — amid a cacophony of catcalls, wolf whistles and screeching tyres — the world went into overdrive frock’n’roll-style. Effie gasped in surprise, looking back instinctively to see how many oglers would be going home with a spring in their proverbial and diaphanous black lace on their minds. As she did so, I couldn’t help but notice the imaginary ejaculates from a hundred passers-by glistening in her hair like so many constellations of icicles. It was hard not to really.
Really hard.
Really, really hard.

The heat was well and truly on. You could almost feel the sap rising as Effie walked by. Men for miles around seemed to be picking up illicit frequencies, pricking up their ears at the mere sound of her killer heels in the distance. I tried to throw them off the scent by accelerating or crossing the road at regular intervals, but to no avail. I knew I would bump into him eventually, or rather he would bump into me. He was out there somewhere — everywhere — whoever he may be. It was just a matter of time now, and now was the time. He loomed up, he loomed large, hurtling towards me with all the inevitability of tragedy. There was no way I could avoid him. In fact, he veered slightly to the right to ensure that we were on a collision course. It was fight or flight. It was lose face and face loss. It was too fucking late.

Effie didn’t notice anything at first. She pursued her monologue looking straight ahead as he rammed into me, only pulling up when I remonstrated with my assailant. This, of course, was the cue he had been waiting for. I was playing right into his big lumberjack hands, which he balled into mighty fists before felling me like a sapling. Effie screamed while I attempted to regain verticality by means of the wall. Paying no heed to the abuse that was being hurled his way, he slowly removed his jacket and folded it rather fastidiously. By the time he had finished rolling up his shirtsleeves, Effie had run out of expletives or patience. I noticed how she rolled her eyes in desperation as I finally staggered to my feet, still puffing and panting, only to hear that I was going to be taught a bloody good lesson in front of my wife. And then he hit me again. Hard. Really hard. Repeatedly. He decked me, then he floored me, then he pulled me up again and decked me some more. At first I was under the cosh, but I soon became conversant with the sentence that was being executed with such surgical precision; I could even distinguish the nuances of each blow. It was like learning a new language.

Taking on the demeanour of an impartial spectator at a boxing match, Effie stepped back to embrace the whole scene. She was more open-minded now, wanted to hear him out. She was hedging her bets: let the best man win, like. At one point — a couple of cheeky jabs followed by a cracking right cross — she even started seeing his, which he put across so eloquently, so forcefully. After all, he was only being fair. Firm but fair. So fair and so firm. Hard, really hard. With her arms folded across her ample bosom, she looked down upon me, sighing and shaking her head, as if she thought, on reflection, that a good lesson would indeed do me the world of good. She was bowing to the inevitable, submitting to a superior force and was silently urging me to do likewise, to let go. All resistance was futile: I had this coming all along and now it had come, and that was that. It was in the order of things to put things in order. It felt right; it even felt good, so good. Hard, so hard. The wicked gleam in her eye proved that she was now baying for blood. Baying, obeying some primitive urge. Harder, really harder.

After an uppercut and a left hook had left me on my knees again, begging for mercy, he slipped his jacket back on and bitch-slapped me to the ground. Blinking through the streaming blood, I caught a glimpse of my wife’s expensive black panties as she stepped over me to join him. They walked away hand in hand.

[This story appeared in Everyday Genius on 28 October 2009. It was commissioned by Lee Rourke (who curated the site throughout October 09). The final version (above) features in New Cross-Fucked Musings on a Manic Reality (Dog Horn Press), an anthology edited by Tom Bradley and published in December 2010.]

Arthur Cravan Podcast

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Here you’ll find an excellent programme (in the Sonar series) about the mighty Arthur Cravan. Entitled “Arthur Cravan contre Arthur Cravan,” it was produced by David Collin and broadcast on Radio Suisse Romande on Sunday 20 September 2009 (8-10pm):

Arthur Cravan contre Arthur Cravan

Né à Lausanne en 1887, boxeur et poète, Arthur Cravan préfigure le mouvement Dada. Figure multiple, admiré par Breton, le neveu d’Oscar Wilde est l’un des personnages les plus fascinants du XXe siècle. On l’a dit excentrique, provocateur, il se définissait lui-même comme le poète aux cheveux les plus courts du monde. Arthur Cravan, de son vrai nom Fabian Lloyd, est né à Lausanne avant de s’établir à Paris et de voyager à travers le monde.

Anticipateur du mouvement Dada, il fut à lui tout seul directeur de la “Revue Maintenant” dont il signait également tous les textes. Poète et critique étonnant, renversant toutes les convenances au nom d’une liberté de parole, d’un sens de la performance et de l’absurde exceptionnels. Encore inconnu du grand public, Cravan mérite d’être redécouvert, à l’instar de Jacques Vaché et Jacques Rigaut, qu’on regroupait sous le terme de suicidés de la société. La plupart des intervenants de ce documentaire sont des passionnés qui collectionnent tout ce qu’ils peuvent trouver autour de Cravan, et qui n’ont de cesse d’explorer ce maigre continent (puisque son oeuvre se résume à peu de chose), qui reste toutefois d’une force incomparable.

Avec :
Jean-Luc Bitton, écrivain, journaliste, photographe, biographe d’Emmanuel Bove, et auteur d’un livre à paraître sur Jacques Rigaut
Philippe Dagen, spécialiste de l’art contemporain, auteur chez Grasset d’un roman intitulé
Arthur Cravan n’est pas mort noyé (2008)
Bertrand Lacarelle, lecteur chez Gallimard, auteur d’un livre sur Vaché et d’un autre sur Cravan à paraître en 2010
Marcel Fleiss, directeur de la galerie 1900-2000 à Paris, collectionneur. A coordonné une exposition sur Cravan à Paris.
Ainsi que des extraits d’une émission de France-Culture sur Cravan (Surpris par la nuit), et d’une soirée thématique sur Cravan diffusée sur Arte.

Lectures: Jacques Roman et Edmond Vullioud, accompagnés au saxophone de Laurent Estoppey

Une émission préparée et réalisée par David Collin

The Slits

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Zoë Street Howe, Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits (London: Omnibus Press, 2009):

Keith Levene: “Viv [Albertine] was the one who made me aware of the Pistols when they were more a myth than an actual band…” (p. 4).

Ana Da Silva: “I remember very well this article that Vivien Goldman had written, she mentioned The Slits, which I thought was great, this band hadn’t done anything but it was there in the papers and everything” (p. 17).

Vivien Goldman: “Tessa was sitting on the bed with Budgie, who had this necklace with a pair of scissors because her group was called The Castrators. It was more of a conceptual thing. Put it this way — I don’t remember the music but I remember the scissors!” (p. 19).

Gina Birch: “…and that’s probably why Vivien Golman was able to write about them, because they’d envisaged what they were going to do before they did it” (p. 18).

Tessa Pollitt: “I started a group called The Castrators with two other girls called Budgie and Angie, but none of us could particularly play, it was just an idea. Suddenly the News of the World was knocking on the door — they wanted to do a sensational article about punkesses. There’s this classic line that says, ‘These girls make The Sex Pistols look like choirboys!'” (p. 18).

Rumour Bands and Tease Gigs

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Here’s an extract from David Johnson‘s “Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the Birth of the New Romantics” (The Observer Music Monthly 4 October 2009, p.38):

…Such was the rigour that Spandau [Ballet]’s coalition of 20-year-old talents brought to executing the whirlwind wind-up that it became a template for every New Romantics “rumour band”:

(1) They staged secret “tease dates”, never “gigs”, at clubs and venues calculated to annoy the rockists, such as the Blitz, an art-house cinema, or a warship on the Thames. The audience got in only by looking good — which applied to critics, too.

(2) They refused to send demo tapes or invite inviting record companies to shows, so few insiders actually knew how the band sounded.

(3) Seemingly a band with no past, Spandau crafted an artful creation myth around the Blitz’s postmodern themes: Bowie’s “just for one day” notion of disposable identities, and of bricolage in which the band’s baffling name was supposedly plucked arbitrarily by Elms from some graffiti in Berlin. The Blitz’s motormouths and myth-makers were a gift to the media. …Spandau Ballet had played only eight live dates before signing an unrivalled contract worth £300,000 in today’s money. …

Nothing At All

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This review of Jean-Yves Jouannais’s Artistes sans oeuvres: I Would Prefer Not To appeared in the Times Literary Supplement dated 25 September 2009 (No 5556, p. 30):

Nothing At All

With his bovine-sounding surname, Félicien Marboeuf (1852-1924) seemed destined to cross paths with Flaubert. He was the inspiration for the character of Frédéric Moreau in L’Education sentimentale, which left him feeling like a figment of someone else’s imagination. In order to wrest control of his destiny, he resolved to become an author, but Marboeuf entertained such a lofty idea of literature that his works were to remain imaginary and thus a legend was born. Proust — who compared silent authors à la Marboeuf to dormant volcanoes — gushed that every single page he had chosen not to write was sheer perfection.

Or did he? One of the main reasons why Marboeuf never produced anything is that he never existed. Jean-Yves Jouannais planted this Borgesian prank at the heart of Artistes sans oeuvres when the book was first published in 1997. The character subsequently took on a life of his own, resurfacing as the subject of a recent group exhibition and, more famously, in Bartleby & Co., Enrique Vila-Matas’s exploration of the “literature of the No”. Here the Spanish author repays the debt he owes to Jouannais’s cult essay (which had been out of print until now) by prefacing this new edition.

Marboeuf has come to symbolize all the anonymous “Artists without works” past and present. Through him, Jouannais stigmatizes the careerists who churn out new material simply to reaffirm their status or iinflate their egos, as well as the publishers who flood the market with the “little narrative trinkets” they pass off as literature on the three-for-two tables of bookshops. In so doing, he delineates a rival tradition rooted in the opposition to the commodification of the arts that accompanied industrialization. A prime example is provided by the fin-de-siècle dandies who reacted to this phenomenon by producing nothing but gestures. More significantly, Walter Pater’s contention that experience — not “the fruit of experience” — was an end in itself, led to a redefinition of art as the very experience of life. A desire to turn one’s existence into poetry — as exemplified by Arthur Cravan, Jacques Vaché or Neal Cassady — would lie at the heart of all the major twentieth-century avant-gardes. “My art is that of living”, Marcel Duchamp famously declared, “Each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral; it’s a sort of constant euphoria.”

Jouannais never makes the absurd claim that creating nothing is better than creating something: like Emil Cioran, he has little time for what he calls the “failure fundamentalists”. He does not dwell on the Keatsian notion (also found in Rousseau and Goethe) that unheard melodies are sweeter, or wonder why the attempts at a merger between life and art have so often resulted in death. Jouannais’s “Artists without works” are essentially of a sunny disposition. They are dilettantes, driven solely by their own enjoyment; cultural skivers who never feel that they owe it to posterity, let alone their public, to be productive. They let time do its work and are often militantly lazy — like Albert Cossery, the francophone writer of Egyptian origin who, on a good day, would fashion a single carefully crafted sentence, or the American artist Albert M. Fine who is quoted as saying: “If I did anything less it would cease to be art”. It is this divine indolence which differentiates Artistes sans oeuvres from darker essays on the subject.

Some of the most interesting passages in the book concern those larger-than-life figures (Félix Fénéon, Arthur Cravan, Jacques Vaché, Jacques Rigaut, Roberto Bazlen) who entered the literary pantheon as characters in other writers’ novels rather than through their own. Cravan, Vaché and Cassady — who embodied respectively the spirits of Dada, Surrealism and Beat — published virtually nothing during their lifetimes. Naturally, phantom works abound here, from Stendhal’s numerous unfinished novels to the unpublished manuscripts of the Brautigan Library (modelled on the library in Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion) through to Roland Barthes’s criticism, which provided him with the perfect excuse not to write the novel he dreamed of. Jouannais also considers summarizers such as Fénéon, whose “elliptical novels” were no longer than haiku, or Borges, who compiled synopses of fictitious novels so that no one would have to waste time writing or reading them. In fact, the Argentinian’s entire oeuvre — haunted as it is by the possibility of its own silence — is reinterpreted as a paradoxical “pre-emptive production” designed to spare the already overcrowded bookshelves of the Library of Babel. Borges’s Pierre Ménard (along with Bouvard, Pécuchet and Bartleby) is, of course, one of the patron saints of the copiers, another category surveyed in these pages. The destroyers (Virgil, Kafka, Bruno Schulz et al.) who seek to cover their aesthetic tracks only get a brief look-in, Jouannais being more interested in the long line of erasers starting with Man Ray’s 1924 “Lautgedicht” (an obliterated poem) and including such works as Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing”, Yves Klein’s infamous empty exhibition or Walter Ruttmann’s “blind” film. The author argues convincingly — in a style both eloquent and elegant — that Cravan’s proto-Dadaist provocations, Rigaut’s suicide or Brautigan’s notorious kitchen shoot-outs should be construed as poetic gestures in their own right. Deliberately misquoting Flaubert, he concludes that the works of these so-called “Artists without works” are “present everywhere and visible nowhere”, which may explain why they are so often misunderstood.