Tuesday, 4 November 2014
142mm x 208mm
sewn booklet with wrappers
In A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry (1996), editor Czeslaw Milosz included a short poem entitled The Day We Die, which he calls a song from the ‘Southern Bushmen’. The only credit – given in the ‘Permissions’ section at the back of the book – goes to Arthur Markowitz, who is named – erroneously – as the ‘translator’. All of which does its author and its real translator, without whom these words and thoughts would be entirely lost to us, a great injustice. For this is not an anonymous song. (To give an idea how inaccurate this is as a description, imagine taking the words from one small part of a chorus as it appears in one Greek tragedy from a known dramatist and calling it a ‘song of the southern European’.) We know who told it to whom, on what day and where. There are even photographs of the storyteller and his translator. The story – of which ‘The Day we Die’ is but one part and which was given the title ‘The Relations of Wind, Moon and Cloud to Human Beings after Death’ by Lucy Lloyd – was told by the !nussa !e Bushman Dia!kwain, in a |xam dialect which was transcribed by Lucy Lloyd on 5th August, 1875 in Cape Town. It appears on pages 5147-5158 in her notebook, Bushman (D.H.) Pp.5079-5168 1875 V.—15 – one of the 131 of her notebooks, containing transcriptions of stories in |xam and !kun languages, which can be seen online at the remarkable Digital Bleek and Lloyd collection. This booklet gives a brief history of the text and how it has changed since 1875, and looks at how the abridged version that appears in the anthology distorts the original and continues the history of marginalisation and worse that has been the Bushmen's lot. It also attempts to restore Dia!kwain and Lucy Lloyd’s names to their rightful place as originators of the text. The title – and the writing on the booklet’s wrapper – is taken from the third page of Lloyd’s original transcription of the story.
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
This fourth entry in the phonograph series features Franz Kafka. The original top label featured the artist Fred Heltmann, who has here became 'Fred Haltmann' - the perfect person to sing 'I Waited at the Gate (A Lament)', which sounds just about right for the writer of Before the Law. The 186 words of licensing legalese written on the top of the original label - from 'No license whatever is granted to anyone to use this patented record for making duplicates nor for any other purpose except the reproduction of sound upon an Edison phonograph by means of an Edison reproducer' to 'any violation hereof or of the license agreements of our licensees is an infringement of our patent rights for which every person concerned therein is liable' - are astonishing in that they take up fully half of the label but are still printed so small that they are illegible without magnification. With a nod towards the travails of Kafka's various characters trapped in impossible bureaucratic neverlands, I've changed the wording around to make it both slightly less comprehensible and slightly more nonsensical than it is already. I have however made it a little more legible. The original phonograph type was ' Edison Blue Amberol Record,' whose title I have changed to 'The New "Paterfamilias" Record' which seems fitting. Kafka had one or two problems with his father in his lifetime, but he is the daddy now.
The latest tale from the 'fables' series. In this particular case, first the full stops went, then the commas, then the apostrophes, then all other punctuation, until nothing was left but the bare comic tale of Ash, who one day just stops in the street. As passers-by turn him into a fetish figure, draping him with the adornments of their predilections, and the authorities decide what to do with him, worrying that he constitutes a fire hazard, Ish, Ash's inside other, is left harried and frantic, rushing around trying to kick-start his engine, but to no avail. A pretty pass, all told.
The second in the series of writers on altered phonograph cylinders commemorates the German writer and organ-builder Hans Henny Jahnn, especially his dark, fantastical 1962 novella, The Night of Lead. The cylinder is lead lined and contains a snuffed-out stub of candle, whose wax has seeped through the packaging. Hidden on the cylinder are the words, 'we walk the streets until our love turns bad'. As you might imagine, the 'sacred' on the top label - left on from the original - is ironic.
Monday, 30 December 2013
152mm x 190mm
sewn booklet with painted wrappers
This tale has been concocted out of His Grandfather's Bible; A Tale of Furness Fells, a novel written by C. Wareing Bardsley, M.A., Vicar of Ulverston and excerpted in the 1885 edition of Home Words for Heart and Hearth (see also Colva Books 30: Henry Jekyll's Partial Statement of the Case, below), the version on which this current treatment is based. The words are exactly the same as those used in the original; all that has been changed is their order, so what was a pious story of redemption for a prodigal son is now something in the line of a tale of pagan sacrifice and the enduring natural force of life. The vicar would surely not have wanted it so, but his main character, the charcoal burner 'Old Antony', was so vigorously drawn - he was, we are told 'a man who never grows old' and whose face 'had dyes such as were worn by Druid priests in the days of the consecrated mistletoe and the hallowed oak' - that the theme of sacrifice and continuation was to be found not too far beneath the surface. The care that Bardsley took to preserve his characters' robust Lancashire dialect is also apparent; his words have been preserved exactly as originally penned, likewise his idiosyncratic punctuation.
Sunday, 17 November 2013
The third in the phonograph series pays homage to the Swiss writer Robert Walser, whose exquisitely tortuous playfulness in prose is unmatched. For all of the loneliness and doubt behind his words, their presiding characteristic is good humour and one rarely leaves it not feeling at least a little uplifted. Rambling is a consistent theme in Walser's writing (I've given him a song title of 'How splendid to wander in the bright summer air!' - 'vocal; unaccompanied' of course). His sentences also resemble the act: characteristically they find him striding out, stumbling a little perhaps but then finding something fascinating by the wayside to take his attention; mixing extraordinary expostulation with simple-hearted delight and tremulous uncertainty, he doubles back, heads forward again, turns round and admires the view, exclaims 'how delightful all this is!' - and then ends with a question mark that puts the whole into doubt. There is no-one quite like him. There's a quote of his on the bottom of the phonograph: 'We don't need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.'
Thursday, 5 September 2013
'The tea was dishonest, tasting vaguely of shrimp…' And here is another from the series, Fables 8 : Modern Times. Where is this one set? A down-at-heel encampment for low-key dissidents perhaps, engaged upon their work of tidying up anomalies in official pronouncements, where jocular camarderie is not quite enough to still the slivers of threat that poke through the cracks: 'bring me the silver of your stream, says the knife grinder, bring me its golden light.' It ends - as a number of my stories seem to these days - with thistledown upon the air. The rather lovely pea green wrappers are made from Ruscombe Mill's Forest Green Wove 180gsm paper.
I have printed up a number of stories, written between 2006 and the present day and linked through their singular method of composition, as a series of 'fables'. Here is number 6 - The Walk. My usual ambivalence to titles is plain as the words don't actually appear on the cover, which instead spreads the load between the series, an image - taken, as all the rest in the run, from Wills's 1923 set of Gardening Hints - and the first line of the tale. As for the story, it's a walk of sorts, engaged upon by a man of less than moderate means and fewer prospects, that commences with the promise of springtime hemlines and ends in the middle of his outing, between his destination and his desk. And I rather like the 'Gardening Hints' card I used for the cover, on two ways of staking runner beans. Thus far, I have always gone for the more traditional method of 'A', but can see the benefits of 'B' - a sort of hop twine arrangement to which I shall give serious consideration next year.
The first in a series of homages to various writers, as encapsulated by altered phonograph cylinder packaging. Algernon Blackwood is a rather overlooked writer these days, whose real subject - despite numerous lurid book jackets trying to persuade us otherwise - is wonder; dreadful wonder at times maybe, but wonder nevertheless, most often of that magical childlike quality that makes the unlikeliest of connections between things which adults seek to reason away. But the children know best. The Blackwood cylinder uses elements of his books The Education of Uncle Paul (1909), The Human Chord (1910) and The Promise of Air (1918). The song title - 'Between Yesterday and To-morrow' - is credited to 'Nixie's Woodwinds' (Nixie's vision in The Education of Uncle Paul of the dawning and unfurling of the winds is still extraordinary), and the cylinder is filled with feather down. The top cylinder label actually had the word 'Camplife' written on it by someone in the past; reading about Blackwood's experiences in the Canadian wilderness among other places, it seemed an eminently fitting word to leave in place.
Friday, 19 April 2013
After all attempts by their original owner to find them a new home failed, the Sidney Nolan Trust was given a set of 1950s Encyclopædia Britannica so that they could turn them into new artworks, all of which can currently be seen (until 6 May 2013) in The Old Foundry Studio & Gallery at Bewdley Museum. I found my way to Volume 14 of the set: Libido to Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. Reading through it I felt smothered by the accumulated dust of knowledge and did a few approximate word counts. They were surprising. Topping the list in the volume were 43,000 words on Logic and Logical Positivism and 38,000 words on Libraries. The entry on Man only merited 16,000 words, while Life Insurance had 8,000 and Lycanthropy over 2,000. Even Lumbago had 175 words. And Love? Not a single word. Not even an entry. I eviscerated the volume and put a few mementos and part of a letter written by a person who can continue what they are doing through the love of another. I found the following definition of ‘Encyclopædia’, from The Encyclopædia Da Costa, helpful: ‘Encyclopædias trouble themselves a great deal about words fallen into disuse, never about words still unknown, burning to be uttered.’
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
A post to mark the publication of Julian Upton's Offbeat: British Cinema's Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems, which was initially available in a limited edition no-ISBN hardback from Headpress, and is now out in widely available paperback. For anyone interested in the backwaters and byways of British cinema it's highly recommended, not least for Julian's pithily precise and often extremely funny writing. I penned a few extended reviews for it a while ago now - on the films X the Unknown (Leslie Norman, 1956), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Val Guest, 1961), The Earth Dies Screaming (Terence Fisher, 1964), Herostratus (Don Levy, 1967), Privilege (Peter Watkins, 1967) and No Blade of Grass (Cornel Wilde, 1970). Here's a still of Edward Chapman, William Lucas, Leo McKern and Dean Jagger in one of the films I write about, Hammer's X the Unknown.