Thursday, July 02, 2015

Something I have done no research into: are there studies (physical, philosophical) of the way in which processes or activities are constrained into stages? Are, that is to say, not smoothly continuous but lumpy, jerking at particular points: think of melting points, boiling points, the different gaits of animals. Transitions that have a definite – and often apparently arbitrary – structure. Could there be something to be learnt from comparative studies of these kinds of phenomena? If we know the world to be real because it resists our desires, might such a study of constraint offer revelations about its structure?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Outside my hotel near Vitrolles in the south of France last night. There's no false colour in this photo; I fear I may have stepped into a David Lynch film...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

from a forthcoming book chapter

If the current socio-political order and the legacies of poststructuralism have alike rendered
us allergic to starting from the top and working down – either the grand narrative reenacts the
violence of empire, or the exception exposes any general statement as special pleading by a
privileged group – what about working from the bottom up? The difficulty with any kind of close
reading, however, is the circularity of its logic of evaluation and validation. 

We choose to read closely those things we already deem to have value, and then demonstrate how
value inheres in the minutiae of their construction. Yet those minutiae are in many respects identical
to those we would find in a mediocre subject. Jacques Rancière, perhaps echoing Deleuze, speaks in
a 2013 interview printed last year in The White Review of his reluctance to adopt "an overarching
view which seeks to unify under a single concept a multiplicity of empirical events". He proposes
an alternative aesthetic methodology where "you are no longer the theorist looking at the empirical
world from above. Instead, it is the art object which teaches you how to look at it and how to talk
and think about it". 

Close reading cannot simply be the process of identifying the building blocks which make up that
which we deem valuable, in order that we might in future use the right blocks, and thus guarantee
aesthetic value. It must itself be a form of activity, a practice that occurs in time with a history and a
context. Certain texts might resist close reading as it is normally understood, but this does not have
to signify an evasiveness, or a pseudo-profundity grounded in obscurity. It can on the contrary be
understood as a invitation to explore alternative, more provisional, ways of reading, of listening, of

Friday, June 26, 2015

an old(ish) poem

Returning to the house one afternoon there is the smell,
but not the feel, of rain. In the middle of the road, between
the narrowly parked cars, a couple walk up the hill
slowly, bright green plastic bags
on all four arms. She, some metres
ahead, turns to encourage. He is reluctant to be
encouraged. Just recently I listened to and almost
understood a broadcast from the south of Germany, in which scientists
explained how readily we can be persuaded to accept
that an image represents our past: the document
that bears false witness is supplied
as its own authenticating stamp. Film
can do likewise, the long take insincere
in its surplus of reality. One of those little deceptions,
Bryan might have called it, the fat man on a beach.
Dead three weeks later: suicide
creates a past, and in this if nothing else can be contagious.
A woman had hung from a tree, music softly
drifting from her headphones, still in place.
He told me this as we sat in the back room,
in sight of the very same tree. I did not
ask whether he thought to cut her down, but heard
with incredulity and horror that the husband called round
later to apologise. We did not
talk about the day he nearly choked at lunch.
The time that lies ahead divides more vividly than
that which drifts behind. We cannot imagine
the passing of time, only suffer it, as from their faces
the couple seem to have suffered plenty, and still
persist in shopping so as to perpetuate. In a dream
I was a woman, went on a trip, and read
a poem about a murderer, which turned out to be
the story of that very trip. I did not have
this dream, but imagined that I had.

June 2013

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Wonderful to have the opportunity to see again those of Agnes Martin's paintings that I have seen previously that I liked the most, and the least, at the Tate Modern retrospective, alongside a comprehensive sampling of her entire life in painting. The grey paintings that I have also seen at the Pace Gallery in New York still fascinate in the way they interrogate the difference between even and uneven (an uneven number of lines gives a horizon in the middle of the painting, an even number does not), bounded and unbounded (is a line the edge of an area or an area in its own right?). This latter aspect is made explicit in the 1973 series of screenprints, On a Clear Day. The paintings I have liked least in the past are the pastel-coloured works of the 1980s; to paint horizontal bars in the faded colours of the American flag and not take into account the possible political connotations seems to exemplify the worst of Martin's apoliticism. Yet in the context of the rest of her work I find myself softening my view: I still think it is a failing, but I now trust more her inability to see things in such a way. There are also startling revelations to be found in works both very early (the sculptures – so emphatic in their thingness) and very late (Homage to life – perspective suddenly and monumentally makes, not a comeback, but a first appearance in any of her mature work).