Archive for Russell Hoban

Page Seventeen II: The Klumps

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2021 by dcairns

But while the Americans were pussyfooting around the English language trying to invent new ways of describing an old deed, the British had few (if any) qualms and certainly had no particular ethical problems about assassination.

In these assassinations of princes and statesmen, there is nothing to excite our wonder: important changes often depend on their deaths; and, from the eminence on which they stand, they are peculiarly exposed to the aim of every artist who happens to be possessed by the craving for scenical effect. But there is another class of assassinations, which has prevailed from the early period of the seventeenth century, that really does surprise me; I mean the assassination of philosophers. For, gentlemen, it is a fact, that every philosopher of eminence for the last two centuries has either been murdered, or, at the very least, been very near it; insomuch, that if a man call himself a philosopher, and never had his life attempted, rest assured there is nothing in him; and against Locke’s philosophy in particular, I think it an unanswerable objection, (if we needed any) that, although he carried his throat about with him in this world for seventy-two years, no man ever condescended to cut it. As these cases of philosophers are not much known, and are generally good and well composed in their circumstances, I shall here read an excursus on the subject, chiefly by way of showing my own learning.

The true and detailed story of how the young Dowager Empress managed to defeat the Regency Council in her struggle for power is unknown to us. We do, however, know the result. Tzu Hsi won and one of her first edicts which ushered in her 47-year rule of China read:

You know what it is to be born alone, baby tortoise!

He remembered how, ten months or possibly ten years ago, he had encountered a box turtle in a forest clearing, and had shouted at it: “They went that-away!” The turtle’s rigidly comical face, fixed in a caricature of startled disapproval, had seemed to point up some truth or other. Brian had hunkered down on the moss and laughed uproariously, until he observed that some of the laughter was weeping.

I am still not clear how I got here. There are no turtles. There is no bay.

This afternoon I bought a marked-down bird book with plates by John Gould (1804-1881). There’s a handsome picture of two oyster-catchers. ‘At running, diving and swimming they are unrivalled, while their vigilance is greatly appreciated by the other birds of the shore,’ says the book. The newer bird books have hundreds of posh pictures, the proficiency of the artists is dazzling. But the birds all looks as if they’d been done from photographs. Certainly there were no such bird pictures before the camera came into use. Gould’s birds are beautiful but modestly done and he seems to have looked at each one carefully and long. His eagle owl, Bubo bubo, is all ferocity but without malice. Dangling from his beak is a dead rabbit who looks exactly like Peter Rabbit without the blue jacket. Bubo bubo’s dreadful amber eyes say simply, ‘It has fallen to me to do this. It is my lot.’ His fierce woolly owl-babies huddle before him waiting for their dinner.

Terminate with Extreme Prejudice: An exposé of the assassination game, its killers and their paymasters by Richard Belfield; On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts by Thomas DeQuincey; The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi: The Last Manchu edited by Paul Kramer; Baby Tortoise by D.H. Lawrence, from The Faber Book of Beasts edited by Paul Muldoon; The Music Master of Babylon by Edgar Pangborn, from The Mammoth Book of Science Fiction Volume One, edited by David G. Hartwell; Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut; Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban.

The charity shops are open again

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2020 by dcairns

My favourite is St Columba’s Bookstore.

Kevin Brownlow’s book on Gance’s NAPOLEON is amazing — the wealth of stills, and detail. Breathtaking.

Maybe I’d see The Autobiography of British Cinema about in the past but hadn’t looked into it because I didn’t know what it was. It’s collected interviews in fact, with everyone from John Addison to Freddie Young. Lovely for dipping into. Here’s Wendy Hiller:

“Carol Reed was not an intellectual, he saw life entirely visually, through little squares, as did David Lean.”

Here’s Thora Hird, in her eighties (most of her stuff is grumbling about early mornings):

“I liked working with Larry [Olivier] because we got on well, but there were little things about him that annoyed me. For a start, if I had to do complimentaries (standing off-camera giving him my lines while the took his close-ups), I would have to be in at eight-thirty in the morning for make-up because Larry insisted everyone be in character, even if they weren’t on camera. I asked him about it, and he told me he couldn’t act to the character if he was looking at meas me. I told him that everyone thought he could have done the scene without me even being there.”

Thora also says that she calls all her directors “Mr. De Grunwald,” “and they know I do it with respect.”

Glenn Mitchell’s A – Z of Silent Cinema is terrific. I had the feeling it might be useful sometime, also.

Charlton Heston’s memoir might also be useful for a potential upcoming project, but is interesting anyway. He seems like a dick, though.

Goddamn this War! is a WWI epic graphic novel by Jacques Tardi. Extremely grim and exhausting, but remarkable.

David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson’s Film History is sure to come in handy as well as being a readable and awe-inspiringly comprehensive work. I bought it because I’d never encountered the Sergio Leone quote where he calls Ennio Morricone “my scriptwriter.”

Three short stories by Shirley Jackson which I was almost certain I already owned in another collection, but the book was 50p and it turns out I was wrong. Read two last night and they’re excellent, of course.

Richard Schickel’s Conversations with Scorsese is fine and all, and covers stuff not in my copy of Scorsese on Scorsese. There are lots of bits where MS says something intriguing and I was rooting for RS to press him for more detail. No such luck.

Thurber’s Dogs. No explanation required, I assume.

Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diaries — I love Riddley Walker and liked several of his late books and am intrigued. Saw Ben Kingsley talk about making the film version once. Great talker, that man.

Irish Ghost Stories is tremendously fat, and has a very large amount of Sheridan LeFanu in it, which is no bad thing.

Movies: I hesitated about THE TRAIN on Blu-ray as I own a DVD but it’s a fine-looking film and the sterling array of extras provided by Arrow decided me. I didn’t hesitate on THE WILD BUNCH. I thought I owned THE ILLUSIONIST but didn’t, so now I do. TO THE SEA AND THE LAND BEYOND seems epic, and Penny Woolcock is revered among documentarists so I should check it out: the BFI provides quirky extras. THE WRONG BOX isn’t altogether satisfying but has great bits. I had an old DVD of LA DOLCE VITA in the wrong ratio so this is an upgrade.

Now I just have to find time to consume this stuff.

Pg. 17, #12

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2020 by dcairns

Some one asked Georgette to dance, and I went over to the bar. It was really very hot and the accordion music was pleasant in the hot night. I drank a beer, standing in the doorway and getting the cool breath of wind from the street. Two taxis were coming down the steep street. They both stopped in front of the Bal. A crowd of young men, some in shirtsleeves, got out. I could see their hands, and newly washed, wavy hair in the light from the door. The policeman standing by the door looked at me and smiled. They came in. As they went in under the light I saw hands, wavy hair, white faces, grimacing, gesturing, talking. With them was Brett. She looked very lovely and she was very much with them.

*

It is difficult for a modern writer to summarize the medieval Christian view of the demons. To judge from the literature it seems that there is nothing that the demons cannot do in their attempt to bring the world to chaos. If one can imagine all the different powers and terrors ascribed to the demons in all the previous cultures which have contributed to the growth of our Western civilization lumped into one awesome and awful personification, then this is the Devil of Krämer and Sprenger in their Hexenhammer. The Lucifer of Dante, set in his lake of ice, is a pussycat in comparison with the tiger that these two Dominicans set loose on the world. Fortunately, however, it is not within the brief of this book to look into the witchcraft literature, for all it is replete with a complex and often horrendous demonism.

*

More than seven hundred years ago, at Dan-no-ura, in the Straits of Shimonoseki, was fought the last battle of the long contest between the Heike, or Taira clan, and the Genji, or Minamoto clan. There the Heike perished utterly, with their women and children, and they infant emperor likewise — now remembered as Antoku Tenno. And that sea and shore have been haunted for seven hundred years . . . Elsewhere I told you about the strange crabs found there, called Heike crabs, which have human faces on their backs, and are said to be the spirits of the Heike warriors. But there are many strange things to be seen and heard along that coast. On dark nights thousands of ghostly fires hover about the beach, or flit above the waves — pale lights which the fishermen call Oni-bi, or demon-fires; and, whenever the winds are up, a sound of great shouting comes from the sea, like a clamour of battle.

*

Seven churches with open belfries stood direct in the wind’s path from Wapping: St Bride’s, St Jude’s, St Mary’s, St Peter’s, St Michael’s, and St Michael’s-on-the-Hill’s. Through each of them it flew, making the black bells shift and shudder and sound unnatural hours. The very ghosts of chimes and the phantoms of departed hours. Twenty-eight o’clock gone and never to return. What a knell for the dying year!

*

Statistics for burglary, arson, robbery with violence and rape rose to astronomical heights and it was not safe, either physically or metaphysically, to leave one’s room at night although one was not particularly safe if one stayed at home either. There had been two cases of suspected plague. By the beginning of the second year we received no news at all from the outside world for Dr. Hoffman blocked all the radio waves. Slowly the city acquired a majestic solitude. There grew in it, or it grew into, a desolate beauty, the beauty of the hopeless, a beauty which caught the heart and made the tears come. One would never have believed it possible for this city to be beautiful.

*

Every thing has a shape and so does the nite only you cant see the shape of nite nor you cant think it. If you put your self right you can know it. Not with knowing in your head but with the 1st knowing. Where the number creaper grows on dead stoans and the groun is sour for 3 days digging the nite stil knows the shape of its self tho we dont. Some times the nite is the shape of a ear only it aint a ear we know the shape of. Lissening back for all the souns whatre gone from us. The hummering of the dead towns and the voyces befor the towns ben there. Befor the iron ben and fire ben only littl. Lissening for whats coming as wel.

*

“But if you would believe the unholy truth — then Time is an agony of Now, and so it will always be.” — The Dreaming city. Do Not Analyse.

*

Seven passages from seven page seventeens — night, and the city, and a mighty wind.

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway; Dictionary of Demons, by Fred Gettings; Oriental Ghost Stories, by Lafcadio Hearn; Mr Corbett’s Ghost & other stories, by Leon Garfield; The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, by Angela Carter; Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban; The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius, by Michael Moorcock.