book and drink

In Bertolt Brecht’s diaries he writes about such things as the essence of art, which he describes as “simplicity, grandeur, and sensitivity,” and its form, coolness.

Looking through the journals that I kept through the heart, so to speak, of my writing life, from 1962 on, I don’t find much of this sort of conclusion. There are more names than ideas, not necessarily well-known names and sometimes names that I don’t recognize Iris Gazelle, who could that be? Jay Julian. There are good descriptions and a lot of conversation – talk – but less than I would expect about writing – what I was writing, what I felt about something I’d written. The journals themselves are written comme ça. They’re meant to be used, not read by anyone. Some pages are written with more care, things I would regret not remembering the smallest detail of.

I had kept diaries or journals since my midtwenties, but like writing itself, I hadn’t known just how to do it. I began by writing down everything – that is, if I wrote anything at all. Eventually I saw that I should not be saving trash…

James Salter
Life into Art
lecture given at the University of Virginia October 2014

Love bowling

January 14, 2018

Sarah Bernhardt in pensive mood

I exist here in the wrong time and place. This is more than a feeling with me: it is an absolute certainty, I belong elsewhere – “fin de siècle”  Paris, for example!

Yes, a time of ‘semiotic arousal’, and in a place considered the heart of civilisation.

Why not?

The year 1900. The newly gilded Eiffel Tower thrusting into the soft grey underbelly of the evening sky. Lights glowing along the Boulevard de Strasbourg, circles of yellow eating into the gloom. The Théâtre-Français is my destination. Here, the long-awaited premiere of Edmond Rostand’s play L’ Aiglon, staring that most popular of actresses, Sarah Bernhardt, is about to take place.

Ah, Bernhardt, her ripe fifty-five-year-old figure laced into a black satin corset before dressing in the tight uniform of the Duc de Reichstadt. How I would love to charm and seduce her. Together we could sip the best champagne from frosted crystal flutes following her stunning performance. I could unlace that confining corset, and free tiny pale breasts.

During rehearsals of the play, dear Sarah insisted in one scene on having a horse on stage. What Sarah wanted, Sarah got. A horse was duly sent for – but proved too ‘frisky’ for the great actress. A second horse was supplied, but this one, unfortunately, suffered from terrible flatulence, and the many farts erupting from its rear-end were unacceptable to all. A third horse was to be summoned, but Bernhardt had changed her mind. There would be no horse in the scene.

Where was I? Oh, yes, fondling those small but beautiful breasts, lightly kissing the rosette nipples.

Sarah was born Henriette Rosine Bernard and her legendary affairs were the talk of the town. Napoleon III and Edward, Prince of Wales had both taken their delight in Sarah’s naked flesh (not, of course, at the same time!); they were just two of a coterie of lovers attracted to the bright flame that was Sarah Bernhardt. Her body was pale and skinny like a boy’s – which may be why she played so many male parts on stage?

“It’s not that I prefer male roles, it’s that I prefer male minds,” she once commented.

Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900

The Great Exposition Universelle – Paris 1900

Leaving Sarah semi-naked in her dressing room, I exit the theatre and make my way to the Place de la Concord – here I find the brilliantly lighted, multicoloured dome that houses fifty-six ticket offices for the exposition universelle: this is the entrance, Porte Binet, to the exhibition site.

There is, on my righthand, a fifteen foot high plaster statue symbolizing Paris, with great tits and flowing robes designed by Paquin. La Parisienne, sculpted by Paul Moreau–Vauthier, modeled on non-other than Sarah Bernhardt and described by many as ‘The triumph of Prostitution’; it is typical of the use of sculpted allegory throughout the exhibition grounds. No matter where you turn, you are confronted by plump plaster breasts, curvaceous bellies or muscular male athletes, semi-nude, with huge rippling biceps.

Dear Sarah, walking here amongst all this exposed allegorical flesh, would undoubtedly feel a certain dampness in her baggy silken drawers – as, in all probability, do many visiting females. Speaking for the male of the species, I find Loie Fuller’s spectacular dancing in her own art nouveau theater, quite arousing: those whiplash curves match the flowing movements of her body and flying, illuminated veils. It all leads one, inevitably, to remain in the perpendicular throughout her performance.

The most obviously picturesque sections of the exhibition lay along the banks of the Seine. Old Paris on the Right Bank with its gables and spires and its costumed actors; on the Left Bank, overshadowing it, rests the Rue des Nations – great pavilions erected by the many foreign powers (but not the US whose modest building is wedged between Australia and Turkey, elsewhere). Richness metamorphosed into vulgarity. The plaster picturesqueness of the colonial section below the Trocadero, where Javanese nymphets vie with devil dancers from Ceylon, Chinese violins, Spanish castanets, African drums and high pitched wails of Algerian singers, mingle –

And the pretty Moroccan boys with their dark, restless eyes who offer to take your penis in their mouth for a couple of francs. Buggery is slightly more expensive, of course.

Paris moving pavements designed for the Exposition

Moving Pavements designed for the Exposition

Art and sex go hand-in-hand. For the gentleman impossibly aroused by the sights and sounds of the exposition universelle and with no desire for young boys, then beyond the exhibition grounds are the maisons closes, or “shuttered houses”; for example number 12, rue Chabanais, a prestigious bordello where you can bathe with prostitutes in a huge copper bathtub of champagne – for a price! There are other brothels offering more specialised services: dominatrix role play, for example. You can be birched by the dominatrix for five francs a stroke, ‘manual relief’ may be offered afterwards for a further five francs.

Typical Parisian brothel on a quiet day

Paris 1900 is an island of fantasy and pleasure. It is a time of sadomasochistic impulses, Oedipal desires, homosexuality, incest, violence and the irrationality that hides beneath the fragile veneer of civilisation.

Ah, but I cannot remain in this wonderful Paris – I must return to my damp, cold moor at the edge of the world; to this place, home, and my reckless liaisons. To this world where one powerful, egotistical child informs another powerful, egotistical child: ‘My button is bigger than your button!’

Who says satire is dead?

Depressing démarche!

let the thing invent itself

January 12, 2018

Pedro Otero - Deshumanización del hombre

I knew very early on that I wanted to be a writer. I mean, when I was a child I knew that…

…I think it is important to make a detailed plan before you write the first sentence. Some people think one should write, “George woke up and knew that something terrible had happened yesterday,” and then see what happens. I plan the whole thing in detail before I begin. I have a general scheme and lots of notes. Every chapter is planned. Every conversation is planned. This is, of course, a primary stage, and very frightening because you’ve committed yourself at this point. I mean, a novel is a long job, and if you get it wrong at the start you’re going to be very unhappy later on. The second stage is that one should sit quietly and let the thing invent itself. One piece of imagination leads to another. You think about a certain situation and then some quite extraordinary aspect of it suddenly appears. The deep things that the work is about declare themselves and connect. Somehow things fly together and generate other things, and characters invent other characters, as if they were all doing it themselves. One should be patient and extend this period as far as possible. Of course, actually writing it involves a different kind of imagination and work…

…I do enjoy it, but it has, of course – I mean, this is true of any art form – moments when you think it’s awful, you lose confidence and it’s all black. You can’t think and so on. So, it’s not all enjoyment. But I don’t actually find writing in itself difficult. The creation of the story is the agonizing part. You have the extraordinary experience when you begin a novel that you are now in a state of unlimited freedom, and this is alarming. Every choice you make will exclude another choice, so that it’s rather important what happens then, what state of mind you’re in and what you think matters. Books should have themes. I choose titles carefully and the titles in some way indicate something deep in the theme of the book. Names are important. The names sometimes don’t come at once, but the physical being and the mind of the character have to come pretty early on and you just have to wait for the gods to offer you something. You have to spend a lot of time looking out of the window and writing down scrappy notes that may or may not help. You have to wait patiently until you feel that you’re getting the thing right – who the people are, what it’s all about, how it moves. I may take a long time, say a year, just sitting and fishing around, putting the thing into some sort of shape. The I do a very detailed synopsis of every chapter, every conversation, everything that happens. That would be another operation…

Iris Murdoch
Interview with Jeffery Meyers in Paris Review summer 1990

an exquisite moment

January 12, 2018

Intimacy is the fusion of identities, yours with another’s in an exquisite moment of time.

Spacemen in my cupboard

January 11, 2018

spacemen mag 1spaceman 1Spaceman_03spaceman 4spaceman5Spaceman mag 6spacemanspaceman double-page spread issue one

As a child I came by an almost full run of ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’, purchased from a used book store, courtesy of a substantial amount of saved pocket money. These periodicals were edited by Forrest James Ackerman, who was also known as: 4SJ, or The Ackermonster, or Dr. Acula, or even Mr. Science Fiction. Besides being a writer, editor and agent, Forry was an actor and appeared in such classics of the silver screen as: ‘Nudist Colony of the Dead’.

Some years after my initial acquisition of this wonderful collection of magazines, I came across ‘Spacemen’, another (less successful) publication edited by Forry which was (more or less) totally Science Fiction based – and in its pages first discovered Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and that fabulous silent film Metropolis (not to mention ‘Girl on the Moon’, ‘Things to Come’ and ‘War of the Worlds’).

Forry said he’d fallen in love with Science Fiction at nine years of age after purchasing a copy of ‘Amazing Stories’. He kept that magazine for the rest of his life. Ultimately it formed a part of his 300,000 plus piece collection of SF/horror books and film memorabilia. Forry if nothing else was a true fan of the genre (see below).

My own fascination with Science Fiction began about age ten when I was given a number of used books which included Stanley G Weinbaum’s wonderful ‘A Martian Odyssey, and Others’. Reading those stories I became hooked –

it can border on disgust

January 9, 2018

Suehiro Maruo

To me (Horror) is the genre of unease. It makes me feel really uneasy and it gives me kind of a creepy feeling. It can border on wanting to look away, it can border on disgust – but that’s a type of horror.

Horror can be any genre. There’s science fiction horror, there’s dark fantasy that’s really really dark, there can be mysteries that converge on horror. It depends on how far you want to go down the path of darkness. Science fiction is about the future, but horror can be about any period of time. As Doug Winter said, it’s your emotional response to the material. So I think it’s in the perception of the reader if something is horror or not.

In my mind, I subconsciously create a separation between dark fantasy and horror as I’m reading. I’ll think, “I’m not going to take this for the Best of the Year because I really like it but the story just isn’t quite dark enough for my purposes.” It’s a question of degree—my personal reaction to the material. I’m deep into working on my Best of the Year, so I’m reading a lot right now and as I read something I constantly judge the material – not just “do I like it” or “is it a good story” but “is it dark enough for me and my readers?” Is it hitting the buttons that makes me squirm and think, “ooh this is really creepy?” Is it making me uncomfortable?

That’s why I loved editing the horror half of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Even though I didn’t choose the fantasy half, to me the choices were all on a continuum: fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror. High fantasy or light fantasy versus horror are separated in a sense, or joined, by dark fantasy, which is perhaps the gray area between white and black. To me horror is extremely dark in feeling, in how it makes the reader react.

Ellen Datlow
Interview with E C Myers, January 2013 for Nightmare Magazine

Almost every woman I have ever met has a secret belief that she is just on the edge of madness, that there is some deep, crazy part within her, that she must be on guard constantly against ‘losing control’ — of her temper, of her appetite, of her sexuality, of her feelings, of her ambition, of her secret fantasies, of her mind.

Elana Dykewomon
Notes for a Magazine
Sinister Wisdom #36 (Winter 1988/89)

writing late at night too

January 2, 2018

I am not a great creature of routine, but I like to be writing (or drawing) by about nine thirty and work through till lunchtime after which I go for a walk. On return I may briefly rest and have a cup of tea and listen to music before doing more work till six or seven. I usually do some writing late at night too, even if is only making a brief entry in my diary.

Reggie Oliver
Interview with Simon Bestwick 11th December 2015

Unforgettable School Days

December 31, 2017