Do you know what makes poetry and philosophy seem dead today? It is because they are separated from life. Greece idealized life such that the life of an artist was already a poetic realization. The life of the philosopher, one who puts into action his philosophy such that it becomes mixed with life instead of ignoring it, sees to it that philosophy feeds poetry and poetry expresses philosophy. That was an admirable persuasion. Today beauty does not act anymore. Action only wants to be beautiful, and wisdom operates separately.

Andre Gide
The Immoralist
trans. Dorothy Bussy

Kusama has said, “I don’t like sex. I had an obsession with sex. When I was a child, my father had lovers and I saw him with them. My mother sent me to spy on him. I didn’t want to have sex with anyone for years.” In a not unusual move, she coped with this dread of sex through her work. Even in an oeuvre pitted with repetition,  her obsession with sexuality and phallic objects stands out. During the years she spent in New York, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, she covered furniture with fake penises, protested violence with public nudity, opened a boutique to sell see-through clothing, briefly published a magazine called Kusama Orgy, and offered herself to Nixon in exchange for him pulling out of Vietnam. She had photos taken of herself in the nude, dots superimposed on her flesh, but when she staged performance pieces in which others were naked, she was usually clothed.

While she is little known for her literary efforts outside of Japan, Kusama also writes books. They usually center on luminous lunatics, prostitutes, and drug addicts and include scenes like this one, in which a hustler cuts off his john’s cock:

“In his accursed hand he notices something that glitters a bright sports-car silver. The semen dogging him through the night continues to flow incessantly, entwining itself around the jackknife in his hand and dripping down on the carpet.”

Cynthia Gralla
Kusama Yayoi: pop goes the disease
BODY 22nd March 2019

always someone to blame

June 11, 2019

At times of perceived crisis, there is always someone to blame, some other, the alien. After the Great Fire, London turned on French incomers and prepared for imminent invasion, the Dutch sailing up the Thames. Paranoia runs deep, it runs all through English literature, and it is often associated with the river. You arrive at a sensationalist hack like Sax Rohmer with his fear of the Chinese.  He wrote a book called The Devil Doctor,  published in 1916. Cover illustrations for cheap railway editions show Fu Manchu pointing a claw like Trump and sending his minions into the darkened city. Confronting this foreign devil, the English hero says:

“A faint perfume hung in the air about me; I do not mean that of any essence or any incense, but rather the smell which is suffused by Oriental furniture,  by Oriental draperies;  the indefinable but unmistakable perfume of the East.

“Thus, London has a distinct smell of its own…Now the atmosphere surrounding me was Eastern, but not of the East that I knew; rather it was Far Eastern. Perhaps I do not make myself very clear,  but to me there was a mysterious significance in that perfumed atmosphere. I opened my eyes.”

By the second year of the First World War, strange smells, clouds of poison gas, were seeping into the imagination of the embattled city. Fu Manchu found his way, as Dickens had in Our Mutual Friend, to a Hawksmoor church, St Anne’s in Limehouse. There is a pyramid with Masonic emblems in the grounds. It becomes the malignant doctor’s entrance to the tunnels of a riverside underworld. And to a long line of conspiracies cooked by future London authors. ‘Shoot down that damned Chinaman, Petrie! Shoot! Shoot!’ That is the despairing cry of Rohmer’s English hero, Nayland Smith.

With so many local libraries improved into ‘ideas stores’ and so many uneconomic books dumped in bundles on the pavement, I have become a keen reader of walls, notebook always at the ready to transcribe the latest spray-can revision to the great collaged newspaper of bridges and warehouses along the Regent’s Canal. There is something fresh every morning. I had to make space for a new arrival: SHOREDITCH IS THE REVENGE OF FU MANCHU. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds about right: retro like vinyl, and site-specific. It reads like a demented Trump tweet.

Ian Sinclair
The Last London

As in the tales of Grimm and Perrault [Tsvetaeva] suggests that it is the fear, the delight in our fear, we enjoy, a delight we cannot enjoy in reality since we fear for our skin. Conversely, Tsvetaeva tells us, a fairy tale that doesn’t frighten is not a fairy tale.  It is terror that transports us to the place where Dostoyevsky was transported when he was condemned to death, this most precious place, the most alive, where you tell yourself you are going to receive the axe’s blow, and where you discover, by the axe’s light, what Kafka made Moses say: How beautiful the world is even in its ugliness. It’s at this moment, as Blanchot would say, that “we see the light.” It’s at this moment, in extremis, that we are born and enjoy the strange things that can happen during such a dangerous, magnificent, and cruel experience as losing a relative while still in the freshness of childhood or youth. We feel,  to our unspeakable horror, something that is incredibly odd: on the one hand an infinitely greater loss than the one we feel when we are of a mature age, and on the other, an unavowable joy – difficult to perceive – that is simply the joy of being alive. The pure joy of feeling that I am not the one who is dying.

Hélène Cixous
The School of Dreams
Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing