Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dipping in

to various books governed by unorthodox schemes of organization, in search of inspiration--I'm thinking Barthes' Pleasure of the Text, Raymond Williams' Keywords, the alphabetic reorderings and repetitions of Perec et al.--looking at some recent stuff, The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting and Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History--but also George Herbert's The Temple.

Herbert uses the same title for more than one poem, numbering each iteration successively ("Affliction (IV)," "Prayer (II)"). My long-time favorite is "Jordan (I)":

WHO sayes that fictions onely and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beautie?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines passe, except they do their dutie
Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it not verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow course-spunne lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lovers loves?
Must all be vail’d, while he that reades, divines,
Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing:
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for Prime:
I envie no mans nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with losse of ryme,
Who plainly say,
My God, My King.

I think the closest thing I've seen to the spirit of what I want to pull off is James Burke's The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible, which has an interesting marginal numbering scheme (involving "gateways" and webs) that I find highly suggestive.

Miscellaneous other cultural stimulation: several good young-adult novels (Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda and Jo Knowles's Lessons from a Dead Girl--just got a good haul of YA stuff from Amazon, that's going to be my light reading for the next few weeks); and a devastating and magically compelling film (in thrall to the spectacle of ruined beauty, a spectacle that's peculiarly the property of cinema), Let's Get Lost.

I am notoriously film-averse but it certainly lived up to my friend Phil Nugent's alluring description (how can you resist the phrase "junkie vampire"?!?):

Long out of circulation and unavailable on home video, the movie tells the story of the jazz trumpeter and crooner's life and career, but it's also a compelling (and rapturously beautiful-looking) tribute to its subject as a key influence on forming Weber's notions of romantic iconography and male beauty. The movie incorporates the famous photos of Baker taken in the 1950s by William Claxton, where what Pauline Kael called his "casual deviltry and 'Blame-It-On-My-Youth' handsomeness" pop right off the page; the movie itself, which is in black and white and was shot by Jeff Preiss, blends seamlessly with the look of those photos, except that at its center is the later Baker, a junkie vampire with a sunken-in face who looks decades older than he was. (Baker died, at the age of fifty-eight, between the time the movie was completed and its first public screening.) The movie doesn't shy away from the truth about what a destructive user Baker was, yet it's still in thrall to him, and near the end, when he takes the mike in a club and murmurs his way through "Almost Blue", you can hear why. It's a peerless study of the enduring, illogical appeal of the beautiful monster.

The "Almost Blue" scene is one of the most sinister instantiations of a charismatic performer exerting his will over an audience that I have ever seen. Quite uncanny.


  1. Sorry, this isn't a comment on this post, but seemed like the only way I could find to contact you.
    Hi Jenny
    I'm asking a selection of writer/bloggers to contribute their thoughts to
    the following question. What phases are involved in the creation of a text?
    The implication of the question is, of course, that writing does in fact
    go through phases.
    Whereas most readers who do not write themselves believe that a text is
    created from a single inspiration, they may also subscribe to the
    paradoxical view that its genesis is to be found in some kind of formula.
    As a writer you will know that there are no rules, or if there are rules
    they are there only to be broken; and also that, generally speaking, there
    is no single inspiration.
    Most writers will admit to an initial idea followed by a gradual process
    made up of individual phases. I would like, eventually, if possible, to
    come to some kind of collage of what those phases may be.
    I'm planning to publish replies to the question on my blog during August.
    I'd really like you to be involved. I'm not looking for lengthy and
    involved essays, simply a description from a personal point of view of
    what characterizes those phases for you, if you like in relation to a
    particular piece of work.
    Best wishes
    John Baker

    PS. When replying, please make sure I have the address of your blog, so that your reply can be credited correctly.

  2. Smashing! A new title!

    _The Iron Whim_ sounds intriguing and appealing.