Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tacheles. You will be missed

Spent the weekend in my favourite city. Berlin’s bright autumn light shimmered, I sat in beautiful café’s where you aren’t asked to vacate your seat for waiting clientele, swam in beautiful lakes and met some lovely people enjoying the dimly lit, crusty walled bars.

lame photo I quickly took in a moving train. I always see this place on my way from the airport to the city. It's a strange sight, that hotchpotch of white buildings poking up over the trees

beautifully bizarre cafe in kreuzberg, situated in some kind of crater 

sun sets in Mauerpark 

Unfortunately, what displays the change in the city and one of the things wrong with the world is the closure of Berlin's Tacheles, a sad day for alternative art. The famous art squat, once a no man's land of creativity and freedom, has been subsumed by heartless capitalism. Artists turned the derelict building into a landmark of Berlin's alternative art scene when it saved the building from demolition in the early 90s.

The closure by the authorities of a city increasingly dominated by property and finance, is a sad moment for anyone who believes art can offer alternative visions of the world.

Today's art is full of big talk about subversion, the default crest of artists like Damien Hirst. But no one can really believe that artists steeped in the big money art world are genuine in any way, they’re much better at merchandising than anything else.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Slowly savouringly reading the life of Anaïs Nin through her diaries, I related to this rather sweet review I came across:

Reading all of these diaries is my greatest literary adventure since discovering Carlos Castaneda in 1975. An in depth reading of the diaries is one of the most profound learning experiences a reader can find. If you want to go on with it you can read Henry Miller, and Proust and all the books that influenced her. You could make a life out of it. I think though it would be better to live one. That is her lesson; live your own life, not the canned life the society wants to sell you.

Arthur Rimbaud

She mentions more than once her love for the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, a fascinating character. Born in Charleville, Ardennes, he produced all his works while still in his late teens— Victor Hugo described him at the time as 'an infant Shakespeare'— and he gave up creative writing altogether before the age of 20.

In his Rimbaud biography, Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel, Edmund White said that in his youth, he related to a young gay man who wanted to escape to the city, to write, to be sexual, to be published, 'but I lacked his courage, and his genius.'

Rimbaud represents what so many artists want to be, a natural talent. We want to shoot to the top, a shining prodigy, not a diligent drudge. White says that Rimbaud, in his short writing career, wrote every genre of poetry, prefiguring surrealism, and influencing modern literature, music and arts.

During his bohemian years in Paris, he was involved in a tumultuous affair with respected poet Paul Verlaine, culminating in Verlaine serving a prison sentence for firing two shots at Rimbaud, one of them wounding the 18-year-old in the left wrist.

Then this romantic figure gave it all up for a colourful, adventurous life in the world, renouncing his literary career at the age of 19. He travelled extensively in Europe, mostly on foot. He travelled from the Dutch East Indies to Cyprus to Yemen to Ethiopia, working as a coffee trader and then turning to gun-running and possibly slave-trading. Through his letters to his mother, in which he endlessly complained, it seemed his new single-focused interested was the accumulation of wealth, but he became ill and died at the age of 37.

Rimbaud was an utter misanthrope treating all those around him with disdain. According to the biography when Rimbaud's work Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) didn't make an immediate impact (a big reason for this was that this rude provocative troublemaker alienated himself from everyone in the literary world), he lost interest in literature completely, saying how he then never even read literature and that it was useless. His reading branched out into how to do and make certain things, and languages, he seemed to want to explore everywhere and try his hand at everything.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Raymond Chandler, the lure of noir

Rediscovered my love of old noir stories. And a little Blue Trane playing in the background. Good times.

People went to L.A. in search of the dream, perhaps to make it as a movie star, and if you didn’t make it, that lonely city could be unforgiving, the flipside of that dream is where ‘noir’ took its name from.

It all started for me one afternoon in the city, too hot, too humid, and too loud - the sound of the traffic felt like a rumba band playing inside my head. I picked up a secondhand copy of Raymond Chandler short stories to take home. I should have known better…

Fantastic stuff. I'll Be Waiting had an especially nasty sting in its tail, and it includes The Red Wind:

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband's necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."

I only started reading Chandler a couple of years ago – old blogpost here – haven't my blogposts improved? And I picked up the biography: The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved by Judith Freeman. The book focuses on Chandler’s thirty year marriage to Cissy Pascal, a married woman 18 years his senior. Apparently she lied about her age on all legal documents and managed to deceive Chandler into believing she was only 10 years his senior.

Freeman paints the relationship in a tragic light. When Chandler was middle-aged, Cissy was elderly, and ill a lot of the time, and when she died he didn’t last long without her, his final few years were a dark period of alcoholism, an attempted suicide, humiliating outbursts and messy attempts at courtship. Cissy was his muse and appeared in his stories as different femme fatales.

Chandler had been a bookkeeper and auditor, but his alcoholism and the Depression culminated in him being out of work.

In 1950, he described in a letter to his English publisher, Hamish Hamilton, why he began reading pulp magazines and later wrote for them:
Wandering up and down the Pacific Coast in an automobile I began to read pulp magazines, because they were cheap enough to throw away and because I never had at any time any taste for the kind of thing which is known as women's magazines. This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.
He taught himself how to write by studying the work of Dashiell Hammett and the Perry Mason story formula of Erle Stanley Gardner. I incidentally got round to reading Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, most interestingly Sam Spade isn’t such a clear cut good guy as Bogart portrays in the classic film, there’s a very interesting grey area.

Elisha Cook, Jr. attempts to intimidate Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941): ‘You keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.’ 
    ‘The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.’

Chandler was the king of killer lines. 'From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.' He later said that wordplay he used in a lot of his fast dialogue had become a lost art.

Chandler's first professional work, Blackmailers Don't Shoot, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933; his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939 when he was 51 years old, featuring his famous detective, Philip Marlowe, his ideal self, the incorruptible good guy. He planted this character in a LA, a city that writers were yet to write about, a place notorious for corrupt systems and desperate, isolated individuals. 

He and Billy Wilder co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944), based on James M. Cain's novel of the same name. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Chandler's only produced original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946) which I remember being a neat little thriller. The Hollywood system paid well but the stress almost killed him.

Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia, she starred alongside Alan Ladd 

Chandler seems to be another one of those unfortunate souls for whom success wouldn’t bring any contentment or satisfaction. He never settled in one place for long because his creative juices constantly needed new environments, and he never liked L.A., the town that fed his work. His style was inspired by the pictures of Edward Hopper and inspired the screenplay for Chinatown

Hardly the darling of the American press, when he published The Little Sister in 1949, American critics were harsher than European counterparts who considered him much more than an author of crime stories. An American critic called it ‘a scathing hatred of the human race.’ For the Europeans, Chandler was describing 'an alluring world, formless, dangerous, free and exciting, and more depressing, a modern world, crazy, cutting edge, free form, consumer driven, personality obsessed, image culture which would soon be exported to the rest of the globe.' (Freeman) English readers did not feel it was a hatred of the human race but a genuine concern for it. Chandler was bringing news of the future, portending what lay in store not just for America but for the rest of the world.