Category Archives: writing

“Cinema is the ultimate pervert art” – Slavoj Zizek on horror and reality

“The birds are outbursts of raw, maternal energy.” Slavoj Žižek from his upcoming film, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, an investigation into what psychoanalysis can tell us about film (I just like what he says about Mitch). More clips here.

Zizek rocks. Here’s him on why Love is Evil (which is pretty darned brilliant).

And here’s a Q&A he did in The Guardian:

Slavoj Zizek, 59, was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, international director of the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities in London and a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana’s institute of sociology. He has written more than 30 books on subjects as diverse as Hitchcock, Lenin and 9/11, and also presented the TV series The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema.

When were you happiest?
A few times when I looked forward to a happy moment or remembered it – never when it was happening.

What is your greatest fear?
To awaken after death – that’s why I want to be burned immediately.

What is your earliest memory?
My mother naked. Disgusting.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-deposed president of Haiti. He is a model of what can be done for the people even in a desperate situation.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Indifference to the plights of others.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Their sleazy readiness to offer me help when I don’t need or want it.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Standing naked in front of a woman before making love.

Aside from a property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
The new German edition of the collected works of Hegel.

What is your most treasured possession?
See the previous answer.

What makes you depressed?
Seeing stupid people happy.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
That it makes me appear the way I really am.

What is your most unappealing habit?
The ridiculously excessive tics of my hands while I talk.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
A mask of myself on my face, so people would think I am not myself but someone pretending to be me.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching embarrassingly pathetic movies such as The Sound Of Music.

What do you owe your parents?
Nothing, I hope. I didn’t spend a minute bemoaning their death.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
To my sons, for not being a good enough father.

What does love feel like?
Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.

What or who is the love of your life?
Philosophy. I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.

What is your favourite smell?
Nature in decay, like rotten trees.

Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?
All the time. When I really love someone, I can only show it by making aggressive and bad-taste remarks.

Which living person do you most despise, and why?
Medical doctors who assist torturers.

What is the worst job you’ve done?
Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
What Alain Badiou calls the ‘obscure disaster’ of the 20th century: the catastrophic failure of communism.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
My birth. I agree with Sophocles: the greatest luck is not to have been born – but, as the joke goes on, very few people succeed in it.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To Germany in the early 19th century, to follow a university course by Hegel.

How do you relax?
Listening again and again to Wagner.

How often do you have sex?
It depends what one means by sex. If it’s the usual masturbation with a living partner, I try not to have it at all.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?
When I had a mild heart attack. I started to hate my body: it refused to do its duty to serve me blindly.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
To avoid senility.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The chapters where I develop what I think is a good interpretation of Hegel.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.

Tell us a secret.
Communism will win.

Penny for the Guy…

Cast your mind back. Back. Little bit further. Good. Elizabethan England. Henry VIII and his split from the church in Rome wasn’t all that long ago. Catholics v Protestants in fanatical ideological struggles (you would be passionate too if your immortal soul was on the line), and the Catholics had definitely got the shitty end of the stick. They had been fiercely persecuted under Elizabeth I, though not without provocation, as a series of plots and attacks – among them the war with Spain – sought to oust her and bring Catholicism back to Britain. The declaration that Catholic Mass was illegal though, predates the Spanish Armada.

When she died in 1603, English Catholics hoped that her successor, James I, would be more forgiving. His mum, after all, was Catholic. They were wrong though (it’s more complicated than that, obviously, but read this to find out more), and a group of 13 men came together under the leadership of Robert Catesby to do something about it. Their plan? Blow up the House of Lords. They’d get James I, a whole bunch of MPs who hated them, maybe even the Prince of Wales too for good measure.

Does this ring any bells? It should. Religion polarising people to such an extent that a fanatical, disaffected group comes together to make a stand – violence their final recourse. It could be modern-day London, Washington, you name it. Then they were conspirators, today they’d be terrorists. But it’s hard not to have some sympathy for their cause.

The conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to pulverise the House of Lords, and stored them in a cellar just under the building. Guy Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt, was given charge of the explosives. But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th (though this may have been a fake).

The warning letter reached the King, and the King’s forces made plans to stop the conspirators. At midnight on 4 November, 1605, they stormed the cellars and caught Fawkes. Most of the conspirators fled London, trying to enlist support along the way. Several made a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House; in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called “the State Opening of Parliament”. Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition. On the very night that the plot was foiled, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. The thwarting of the event was for years commemorated with church services, bell ringing and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire – hence today’s Guy Fawkes Night.

Are we partying in support of Fawkes’ execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter any more – politics have always been best sanitised by masquerading as a celebration.

In Lewes, fireworks night is a bit darker than at other paces. Bonfire societies parade down the streets in costumes, lighting fireworks, burning crosses and effigies as they go, all under the “no popery” standard. The event’s roots commemorate the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs by Catholics in the 16th century. Now, as well as the Pope and Guy Fawkes, you’ll see tableux and effigies of modern day baddies being burnt – George Bush, Saddam, even John Prescott. It’s an annual day of misrule, the costumes were originally to stop participants being recognised. Of course, while it’s not exactly politically correct, it’s hugely popular. If it does get shut down, it’ll probably because so many people go that Lewes can’t cope, not because we don’t want to see Iranian presidents being chucked on bonfires.

Now watch this, it’s worth it:

The guy quote: Sir John Betjeman

Sir John Betjeman was an English poet, writer and broadcaster who described himself in Who’s Who as a “poet and hack”. He was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture. Starting his career as a journalist, he ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate to date and a much-loved figure on British television. Originally the name was Betjemann, but the family knocked off the last ‘n’ during the First World War to make it sound less Teutonic. It wasn’t until the Fifties that his work really started getting noticed. When his Collected Poems came out in 1958 they made publishing history – they have since sold over two and a quarter million copies

It’s interesting that, at a time when people were getting stuck into free-form jazz and blank verse, Betjeman stuck to his traditional guns. And while outwardly his satiric, wry verse might have seemed light, there was a great depth and elegance to his poetry. He died in 1984 and was buried in St Enedoc Church, Trebetherick, North Cornwall. It is a magical place. One of the nicest ways to approach it is by getting the ferry from Padstow to Rock, then walking up along the bay and over the hills – beautiful. There are some recordings of him reading his poems here. Below are a couple of lines and then two wonderful poems: How to get on in society, and Meditation on the A30.

Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.

I don’t think I am any good. If I thought I was any good, I wouldn’t be.

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough. / It isn’t fit for humans now.

How To Get On In Society
Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It’s ever so close in the lounge dear,
But the vestibule’s comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me

Now here is a fork for your pastries
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know that I wanted to ask you-
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I’m afraid the preserve’s full of stones;
Beg pardon, I’m soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.

Meditation on the A30 by John Betjeman
A man on his own in a car
Is revenging himself on his wife;
He open the throttle and bubbles with dottle
and puffs at his pitiful life

She’s losing her looks very fast,
she loses her temper all day;
that lorry won’t let me get past,
this Mini is blocking my way.

“Why can’t you step on it and shift her!
I can’t go on crawling like this!
At breakfast she said that she wished I was dead-
Thank heavens we don’t have to kiss.

“I’d like a nice blonde on my knee
And one who won’t argue or nag.
Who dares to come hooting at me?
I only give way to a Jag.

“You’re barmy or plastered, I’ll pass you, you bastard-
I will overtake you. I will!”
As he clenches his pipe, his moment is ripe
And the corner’s accepting its kill.

The Guy Quote: Aristotle

Aristotle. In short: the man. The brainy man. Greek philosopher, student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and one of Western thought’s most important figures. His writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy – morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics – and yet only a third of them survived.

He covered physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. His understanding of physical sciences lasted until Isaac Newton’s apple dropped, and we still talk about his philosophy today. There’s an excellent Wikipedia on him here, but below are some of my favourite sayings of his.

Love is one soul in two bodies.

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.

All men by nature desire knowledge.

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.

All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.

Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence.

In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels.

It is best to rise from life as from a banquet, neither thirsty nor drunken.

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[[ps – please check out some of my other quote collections here – The Guy Quote]]

Gait

Strangely that’s something I still miss:
your slow, measured stride. Even now
I’d try to copy it in case of crisis –

that thoughtful lope towards fire or flood.
Of course you were panicking like the rest of us
but someone has to take the adult role.

I practise and practise – the steady hand, the cool
head, the firm, what’s-the-problem-here stroll
to the edge of the abyss.

– Connie Bensley
, from The Spectator, 25 September 2010

Haiku from 4Chan

They had a wee challenge – submit a haiku about the object to your left. Some of my favourite entries follow. No picture. Unrelated.

My aunt once told me
slow and steady wins the race
she died in a fire

Harry Potter books,
Numbers five, six, and seven.
I’m 20 years old.

Smelly, smelly cat
…the FUCK are they feeding you?
It is not your fault.

Steel coffee cup
you are also a french press
Fuck starbucks coffee

wristwatch to my left
why you lying on table
must have put you there

pillow is ugly purple colour
i do not like this pillow very much
i have a vagina woo

A leather jacket
it protects my skin from cold
the chaps, not so much

I have a ruler
I use it to draw straight lines
And measure my cock

i actually
know how to write a haiku
you all are fucktards.

Me and my guitar
I play you so horribly
Please co-operate.

Great War shrapnel shell
Now you give light as my lamp
It’s a funny old world.

Haiku’s can be easy
sometimes they don’t make much sense
Refrigerator

oh left leg of mine
you move me half way everywhere
dont you ever break

tits or gtfo

The Willow Pattern Story

I’ve been surrounded by blue and white china my whole life. Mum is a massive fan – the kitchen has always been packed with jugs, tureens, plates, dishes, and more, sometimes chipped but always loved. Thinking on it, it has been a massive influence on me, the idea that something utilitarian (a plate) can also have aesthetic value. This was drilled into me at an early age when I used to have to eat my food to see which Peter Rabbit plate I had. Then there’s The Dining Room Shop – Mum’s shop – which has always had gorgeous stuff – some really quite rare and beautiful (I’ve always liked the old Wedgwood, personally, especially the quite plain Jacobean (?) stuff).

Nowadays it’s a sort of collective term for knock-offs – usually transfers – of various other patterns. But Willow Pattern is named after an original Chinese design, first engraved by Thomas Minton in 1780. He was then followed by Royal Worcester, Spode, Adams, Wedgwood, the whole gang (Burgess and Leigh’s modern Willow has been in continuous production since 1922).

There’s a story behind the original pattern, and it’s quite beautiful. Look at the plate first. It might look like a single image, but there’s a whole narrative happening inside it.

Once upon a time, there was a very grand Mandarin (that’s his palace under the big tree) who had a stunning daughter, Koong-se. She was so beautiful that he had knew he could do very well out of marrying her to the right person.

He also had a secretary, Chang. A personable young man who, while doing the Mandarin’s acccounts, full head over heels with Koong-se, and she with him. It was proper love too. Not an infatuation but an all-consuming need. When he found out, the Mandarin was livid. How could this lowly secretary ever dream he was suitable for his daughter? Something had to be done.

Poor Chang was banished, and a huge fence was build around the gardens of the Mandarin’s palace – you can see it at the bottom of the dish – so that Chang could not get in, and Koong-se was trapped inside, a bird in a gilded cage.

One day she was standing at the water’s edge when she saw something in the water – a shell, with tiny little sails on it. She picked it out of the water and found inside a poem, and bead that she had given her lover. Chang was outside, and he still loved her.

But then – terrible news – the Mandarin came in to tell her that he had found a suitable match. Ta-jin, a powerful warrior Duke. Not only that, but he was on his way to meet his betrothed, with loads of jewels for her (that’s him on the boat on the left hand side, making his way to the palace).

Chang had a plan though. Disguised as a servant, he snuck in to that night’s banquet, and up to Koong-se’s room. They kissed and decided to make a break for it. The Mandarin and Ta-Jin had drunk themselves into a stupor, and the two lovers quietly crept out. But just as they were leaving, the Mandarin woke up and tore after them (that’s him chasing them over the bridge – she’s holding jewels and I think the Mandarin has a whip).

They just managed to escape, and hid with a maid who the Magistrate had already fired for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang, so the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang as a thief when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river (on the plate it’s just behind the boat) and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned.

Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

The two birds on that plate? The gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two beautiful doves.

.

There’s another story to the plate – a secret Shaolin legend.The Shaolin Monastery is burned by the Imperial troops of the Manchu rulers, called invaders by Chinese nationalist and later communist factions. Souls of the dead monks take a boat to the isle of the Blest. On the bridge are three Buddha awaiting the dead souls: Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future; and, Amitabha, the Ruler of the Western Paradise. Beyond them is the City of Willows – Buddhist Heaven. The doves are the monks’ souls on the journey from human to immortal life.

[I might get Mum to check this 😉 – oh, and with all fables and legends, there’s always another version, so apologies if this isn’t the one you know]