on surface and underscoring, parastou forouhar @ leighton house review in bidoun

I have a short review of Parastou Forouhar’s recent exhibition at the Leighton House Museum, London in the new issue of Bidoun #23, Squares, whose contents are here. As ever; rush out and do yourself a favour! Or subscribe; you know you want to!

I haven’t seen the issue yet [19.01.11 Have now; looks good!], am curious to see how it’s been illustrated [see exhibition link above] and still finding my way with these short art reviews; the kind of exploration I remember from writing critically about books and with which I felt I made a break through in writing about a John Barth novel with similarly few words in late 1991 [and that evening/night helped a friend complete -well, did- a piece of work that quite quickly became art historical. Busy day! -and a small part of my next big writing project].

There is an art to writing short as well as writing to context that I’ve not mastered with visual art [much happier with essay length!] but I learnt something valuable from this attempt. I believe in doing it, most definitely, and was very gratified to be invited to write on PF or at all. I’ll try to explain myself. Continue reading “on surface and underscoring, parastou forouhar @ leighton house review in bidoun”

on radwa ashour’s spectres/atyaaf, in today’s independent

Radwa Ashour Spectres The Independent

Spectres (Atyaaf),

By Radwa Ashour

Trans Barbara Romaine

Pleased to see my very short review, shortened further to fit, of Spectres in today’s Independent: “Personal, Political and Painful” [UPDATE see below for full original review & an update from MW’s obituary for Radwa].

It ends;

Spectres combines invention, unofficial history and human abyss in an elliptical novel in which Ashour articulates an ethics rooted in Arabian and ancient Egyptian cultures. The result transforms a bleak constellation into a quietly stirring beacon. Spectres provides an irresistible companion to Barghouti’s memoir I Saw Ramallah, and a contrast to Elias Khoury’s more traditional Gate of the Sun. Spectres is a boldly original novel by an important writer whose exemplary work we need more of in English.”

I had a little more to say, but would only add now that the companionship with those two titles was predicated crucially on the words, “in translation”, thus referring to the disgracefully small pool of Arabic writing yet in English. As it stands it might be read as a weird and old-fashioned kind of valorisation, no? The word “demanding” has also gone from elsewhere, and again, I only mention it because though it’s indubitably great to see the novel celebrated in The Independent, it is the best of things; a demanding read in more ways than one.

My similarly tiny review of the Mahmoud Darwish’s rivetingly demanding Absent Presence (in the Mohammad Shaheen translation) will appear in due course… (UPDATE 2018: clean link here.)

Continue reading “on radwa ashour’s spectres/atyaaf, in today’s independent”

on ‘translated by’, the details…

Translated By

[CLICK image for details]

Curated by Charles Arsène Henry and Shumon Basar

Featuring Douglas Coupland, Rana Dasgupta, Julien Gracq, Hu Fang, Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Guy Mannes Abbott, Sophia Al Maria, Hisham Matar, Adania Shibli and Neal Stephenson

*NB [UPDATE] The accompanying book will be published February 10th, details here and below; Continue reading “on ‘translated by’, the details…”

on narrating gaza, a view from europe in babelmed [gaza four]

It’s 2 years since Israel’s last assault on Gaza, in which it dropped white phosphorus in to school playgrounds. Narrating Gaza attempts to break a terrible silence on the subject by enabling Gazans to tell and show their stories -in remembrance and resistance.

I’m extremely pleased and gratified that my little essay has also been published by Babelmed here. In fact, it’s now up in English on the narrating gaza site itself here. Check Babelmed’s homepage here.

on appetite and a mystic chef, george steiner essays, new statesman 1995

George Steiner August 2008

Or; If Kafka were Hindu…

Every now and then I wonder about George Steiner. Mostly it’s positive wondering but something bugs me about him and it’s not what seems to bug most people I know or read that have met him or committed their view of him to print. Much of the latter is merely a distaste for overt intellect, especially a passionate ‘continental’ mind as well as distrust of the whole dynamic of translation, literally and metaphorically.

There are pedagogic and vulgar ego issues when it comes to Steiner but let me say in brief that I dissociate myself from the cynical Brit approach to him. What continues to bug me is essentially what bugged me when I committed myself to print 15 years ago [in the New Statesman, see below]; I hate it that he won’t credit Kafka, Mozart, even little me with the capacity -effort, hours/years of silent striving and error, the beauty of the attempt- to invent.

Instead, it wasn’t Kafka or Mozart it was “god”. Who? you might say. Religious faith is one thing [later, in Errata, he described himself as a “messianic agnostic”, which is anticipated in what I wrote below], but to misrecognise the grand smallness of human effort, endeavour and appetite is wrong as well as pitiful.

Steiner is a man with a good brain and that brain has famous and all too real appetite but it strikes me therefore as worse that he closes it all down when he approaches a peak to indulge in ‘god’-whistling instead. Such vacuity is the opposite Continue reading “on appetite and a mystic chef, george steiner essays, new statesman 1995”

on silence or not, cage blake alÿs and on…

Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing…” made sense, mainly because it was such a great track back in the mid-90s, right? Cage Against the Machine, the attempt to block/buy the No. 1 slot for a recording of John Cage’s 4’33” -a rigorously orchestrated slice of atmospheric sound, often described as silence- was always a bit too clever and so a bit too dumb to work, no?

Kenneth Silverman’s recent biography of Cage, Begin Again, is a pretty straight celebratory record of an entirely remarkable life [and not published in the UK!]. Cage spans [subverts?] or strides [meanders?] the 20th Century in very particular ways, making work from beginning to end nearly and constantly mining the same seam of inventive attempts.

Always beginning again, afresh, anew -so the thesis runs. KS makes an epigram of Gertrude Stein’s gorgeous line from The Making of Americans; “Beginning was all of living with him, in a beginning he was always as big in his feeling as all the world around him.” The way in which this actualises is exemplary even while it creates doubt in me too -as the book goes on dutifully detailing yet another I Ching derived whatever!

4’33” was achieved using a deck of tarot cards, which even Cage said “seems idiotic” but he composed each movement by joining up randomised periods of silence with precise measures which totalled four minutes and thirty three seconds. The point, one made more precise by his subsequent visit of Ryoanji and fuller acquaintance with Zen, was that the ‘silence’ is a pregnant one, like the stone garden’s potent ‘blankness’.

Two thoughts; one links directly to the gorgeous version of Feist’s song, There’s a Limit to Your Love, that James Blake put out a month ago. As you know, the track is a departure from his flurry of promising EPs released this year alone, including CMYK and Klavierwerke, for foregrounding his voice against a piano track redolent of Nina Simone and an electronic bassquake. Apart from just enjoying it and its arguably rather more local newness I was struck by the ‘silence’ it contains. Or near silence, Continue reading “on silence or not, cage blake alÿs and on…”