I feel I’ve come to Rebecca Solnit late in the game and can’t believe I haven’t discovered her sooner – she writes in such a beautiful sonorous and reflective way that her story-essays are like philosophical and spiritual meditations. This collection of reflections on how we give life meaning and what may or may not be important was inspired by the endless tales of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights. Taking the process of story telling as her subject, Solnit begins with her own tales – of emotional abuse by her mother, abandon by a lover, surviving cancer while seeing others die and journeys to Iceland and the Grand Canyon – as the means to an end rather than an end in themselves. The stories she tells belong to a patchwork of fairy tales, archetypes and myth. These story-essays weave threads from Solnit’s personal experience into the stories of Frankenstein, the Marquis De Sade and the lives of the many people she meets on her travels. She doesn’t just document journeys to places but spiritual journeys, which for Solnit seems very much informed by an interest in Buddhism. So her stories are looking for redemption in the form of letting go. A beautiful thing and something that got me thinking about how we might tell stories about our own lives that stretch across experience, time and place to touch others.
Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon is such an inspiration to me for how to be pure and I loved the nakedness of her paintings at Frieze Art Fair. They are deceptive in their simplicity. It’s hard to tell from these images but the black paint of her graffiti-poetry is sparkling with glitter.
It had never occurred to me read Julian Barnes until I was bought this book as a present. Although this is a novella, reading it was a great lesson in the art of writing short stories. Barnes has such a strong sensibility for the small things that tell us so much – this novella is really a series of fragments of a life composed from memory which jumps right into the currents of life-changing incidents and momentarily pauses their flow so that we can see with hindsight what at the time was impossible. Ultimately I found his point of view rather depressing – that our lives, in the end, add up to very little – but he communicates this with a deep compassion that I found moving.
I went to Paris in mid November for Paris Photo. It was crisp and cold and the anticipation of Christmas was very much in the air. I drank expensive espressos to keep warm and learnt not to ask for Americanos. Here are some of my favourite images.
Sonic, the retrospective of Hedi Slimane’s document of bands from LA and London 2007-2014 was showing in Paris while I was in town. Even though the images are in public circulation in the form of editorials, Saint Laurent campaigns and Slimane’s online diary and I’d seen almost all of them before, there was something powerful about seeing the physical art works. Slimane is very concerned with iconography and there was a real gravity and even nobility to these images of living legends and flaming guns, which I’m sure was completely intentional and which was not any less powerful for it. I wrote a paper on Slimane’s photography for a conference at the Glasgow School of Art earlier this year and it was great to finally get to see the images I’d spent so much time living with in all their minimalist, romantic and deeply stylised glory. I most enjoyed the two slide shows, one of London bands and the other of LA, playing concurrently in silence on facing walls in a side room that was empty apart from the two large black velvet cushions you could sit on to watch. As I sat on a cushion watching the faces of young boys and girls in bands and their elated fans fade in and out, I found myself feeling unexpectedly sad for how much has changed (already those times belong to a past that arguably – because of the commodification of youth culture - can never be returned to) and sad for how much I have changed too and how my own youth - all that unbridled hunger and energy and innocence – has been lost to another time, also. I love my life now and would never want to go through the wild turbulence of my twenties all over again but sitting in the dark on those cushions, I experienced a small moment of grieving.
I thought the line up of Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht was really well curated. My personal highlights were Bo Ningen versus Savages – girls who look like boys and boys who look like girls… drummer against drummer, bass against bass, guitar against guitar and singer against singer…melting, splitting, dissolving… an atomic storm of pure noise – and Swans… the entire audience bodily swaying backwards and forwards in a primitive ritual of mass transcendence that left me coming away from it all feeling spiritually cleansed. It was also great to see Ice Age – a “hot mess” according to one of the girls I was with, which perfectly sums them up and also new Canadian band Ought whose charismatic singer is a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Mark E Smith with a sound that traverses Magazine, Talking Heads and The Fall. An inspiring weekend in fun company.
I love Angela Carter and am slowly working my way through her entire catalogue in no particular order. In The Infernal Desire Machines she takes the real life author of The Sandman, ETA Hoffman and transforms him into her own version of The Sandman’s protagonist-inventor. But instead of inventing a doll who appears like a woman, Carter’s Hoffman invents multiple realities that warp time and space created from the sexual energy of desire. It’s this philosophical questioning about the nature of reality and the power of the imagination that goes right to the heart of all Carter’s works. What she does best and what I love about her, is her ability to plunge the reader into a romantic, bloody, beautiful, carnivalesque world where anything is possible and nothing is as it first seems. In the Infernal Desire Machines, she creates penetrating images of cannibalistic acrobats and masochist centaurs that sink deep into the subconscious… so much so that I found myself having strange dreams whilst reading this book that could only be explained by the bizarre and wonderful imagery it planted in my head.