Category Archives: Writing

The snakeskin

Artistic creativity has always manifested itself in me as a sort of hunger. I have observed this need in myself with some gratification, but I have never in all my conscious life asked why this hunger should arise and demand to be satisfied. In the last few years, as it has begun to ease off, and been transformed into something else, I have begun to feel it important to try to establish the reason for my ‘artistic activity’.

I remember from very early childhood a need to show what I had achieved; progress in drawing, the ability to bounce a ball against the wall, my first strokes in the water.

I remember feeling a great need to attract the attention of the grown-ups to these manifestations of my presence in the physical world. I never, it seemed to me, excited enough interest in my fellow human beings. And so, when reality no longer sufficed, I began to make things up, regaling my contemporaries with tremendous stories of my secret exploits. These were embarrassing lies, which inevitably foundered on the scepticism of the world around me. In the end I withdrew from fellowship and kept my dreams to myself. A contact-seeking child, beset by fantasies, I was quickly transformed into a hurt, cunning and suspicious daydreamer.

But a daydreamer is not an artist other than in his dreams.

The need to get people to listen, to correspond, to live in the warmth of a fellowship, remained. It became stronger and stronger as the prison walls of loneliness closed around me.

It was fairly obvious that the cinema should be my chosen means of expression. I made myself understood in a language that bypassed words, which I lacked; music, which I have never mastered; and painting, which left me unmoved. Suddenly, I had the possibility of corresponding with the world around me in a language that is literally spoken from soul to soul, in terms that avoid control by the intellect in a manner almost voluptuous.

I threw myself into my medium with all the dammed-up hunger of my childhood and for twenty years, in a sort of rage, I have communicated dreams, sensual experiences, fantasies, outbursts of madness, neuroses, the convulsions of faith, and downright lies. My hunger has been continuously renewed. Money, fame and success have been the astonishing, but basically unimportant, consequences of my advance. By this, I do not wish to discount whatever I may have achieved. I believe it has had, and perhaps still has, its importance. What is so comforting to me is that I can see what has passed in a new and less romantic light. Art as self-satisfaction can have its importance — particularly to the artist himself.

Today the situation is less complicated, less interesting, and above all less glamorous.

Now, to be completely honest, I regard art (and not only the art of the cinema) as lacking importance.

Literature, painting, music, the cinema, the theatre beget and give birth to themselves. New mutations and combinations emerge and are destroyed; seen from the outside, the movement possesses a nervous vitality — the magnificent zeal of artists to project, for themselves and an increasingly distracted public, pictures of a world that no longer asks what they think or believe. On a few preserves artists are punished, art is regarded as dangerous and worth stifling or steering. By and large, however, art is free, shameless, irresponsible and, as I said, the movement is intense, almost feverish; it resembles, it seems to me, a snakeskin full of ants. The snake itself is long since dead, eaten out from within, deprived of its poison; but the skin moves, filled with busy life.

If I now observe that I happen to be one of these ants, then I must ask myself whether there is any reason to pursue the activity further. The answer is yes. Even though I regard the theatre as an old and well-beloved courtesan who has seen better days. Even though I, and many with me, find Westerns more stimulating than Antonioni or Bergman. Even though the new music gives us feelings of suffocation, from the mathematical thinning out of the air; even though painting and sculpture have been sterilized and waste away in paralysing freedom. Even though literature has been transformed into a mere cairn of words, with no message and no danger.

There are poets who never write, because they shape their lives as poems; actors who never perform, but who act out their lives as high drama. There are painters who never paint, because they close their eyes and conjure up the most superb works of art on the back of their eyelids. There are film-makers who live their films and would never abuse their gift by materializing them in reality.

In the same way, I believe that people today can reject the theatre, since they live in the midst of a drama which is constantly exploding in local tragedy. They need no music, since their hearing is bombarded every minute by great hurricanes of sound, in which the pain barrier is both reached and surpassed. They need no poetry, since the new world philosophy has transformed them into creatures of function, bound to interesting — but poetically unusable — problems of metabolism.

Man (as I experience myself and the world around me) has set himself free, fearfully, breathtakingly free. Religion and art are kept alive for sentimental reasons, as a conventional courtesy to the past, or in benevolent concern for the increasingly nervous citizens of leisure.

— Bergman, from an acceptance speech written for the presentation of the Erasmus Prize in Amsterdam, 1965 (tr. Bradfield)

Splice’s description of The Moment:

In the murky aftermath of a breakdown, a man still at odds with himself takes flight to a cottage in rural Norfolk. There he intends to strip his life of everything trivial, everything superfluous, paring it all back to the essential truths, values, and experiences. In doing so, he keeps a fragmentary journal: not a record of progress as such, but sporadic notes on his new surroundings as he attends to minor changes in search of an ideal moment-a moment of unity between body and mind, in which there is no distinction between sensation and thought. For decades he has been hounded by the sense of a split self, as if under observation by a nameless double, and he feels that the opportune moment, if it can be found, will relieve him, just briefly, of this spectral presence.

Peter Holm Jensen’s début novel is a mercurial marvel of contemplative literature that at once adopts and dismantles the diarist’s form of expression. It is not a linear account of ordinary events, but a cyclical and recursive record of noticing the ways of the world. It does not tell the story of its narrator’s life, but opens up for him a quiet space in which to savour the changes of the seasons, the migration habits of birds, his connectedness to his partner, the fluctuations of his ineptitude and capabilities. But it is also not an environmentalist’s lyrical notebook, for its author feels the pains of precarity and indignity under neoliberalism, nor is it an account of stoic persistence in the face of daily adversity and aimlessness. It is, rather, an attempt to come to terms with the indifference of the forces within which we live — time, nature, globalisation — and to extract from this void of meaning something immanent, something true.

The Moment

In the murky aftermath of a breakdown, a man still at odds with himself takes flight to a cottage in rural Norfolk. There he intends to strip his life of everything trivial, everything superfluous, paring it all back to the essential truths, values, and experiences. In doing so, he keeps a fragmentary journal: not a record of progress as such, but sporadic notes on his new surroundings as he attends to minor changes in search of an ideal moment — a moment of unity between body and mind, in which there is no distinction between sensation and thought. For decades he has been hounded by the sense of a split self, as if under observation by a nameless double, and he feels that the opportune moment, if it can be found, will relieve him, just briefly, of this spectral presence.

The Moment

How to speak? How to tear apart the skin of words?

Czeslaw Milosz

The Moment

Photos of the initial hard copy of my book sent to me by Daniel Davis Wood of Splice, who’s doing a superb editing job. With a blurb by the great Lars Iyer.

 

The Moment 1

The Moment 2

The Moment 3

The Moment back cover

But a time would come when the book would be written, would be behind me, and I think that a little of its light would fall over my past. Then, through it, I might be able to recall my life without repugnance.

Sartre

The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of someone’s own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet.

Knausgaard

When I hear modern people complain of being lonely then I know what has happened. They have lost the cosmos. – It is nothing human and personal that we are short of.

D.H. Lawrence

More and more, fundamental life and death decisions are being made by machines, by software, without human intervention … And behind these machines, far behind them, opaque monoliths of capital, vast and cold and unsympathetic.

Will Wiles, via here

Physical work

Physical work is a specific contact with the beauty of the world, and can even be, in its best moments, a contact so full that no equivalent can be found elsewhere. The artist, the scholar, the philosopher, the contemplative should really admire the world and pierce through the film of unreality that veils it and makes of it, for nearly all men at nearly every moment of their lives, a dream or stage set. They ought to do this but more often than not they cannot manage it. He who is aching in every limb, worn out by the effort of a day of work, that is to say a day when he has been subject to matter, bears the reality of the universe in his flesh like a thorn. The difficulty for him is to look and to love. If he succeeds, he loves the Real.

That is the immense privilege God has reserved for his poor. But they scarcely ever know it. No one tells them. Excessive fatigue, harassing money worries, and the lack of true culture prevent them from noticing it. A slight change in these conditions would be enough to open the door to a treasure. It is heart-rending to see how easy it would be in many cases for men to procure a treasure for their fellows and how they allow centuries to pass without taking the trouble to do so.

At the time when there was a people’s civilisation, of which we are today collecting the crumbs as museum pieces under the name of folklore, the people doubtless had access to the treasure. Mythology too, which is very closely related to folklore, testifies to it, if we can decipher the poetry it contains.

– Simone Weil, ‘Forms of the Implicit Love of God’ (tr. Craufurd)