Sunday, January 16, 2011

In flux, as usual

In retrospect, it was probably always a bit unrealistic for Bill Direen to imagine that the Michael King fellowship he won last year would bring him six months of calm and seclusion in the little book-lined villa on the side of Devonport's Mount Victoria which houses the King Centre.

Bill may have had plans to write a new novel, and to at long last finish reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, but his status as a living legend of Kiwi culture and his absence from his homeland for long periods over the past decade and a half made it inevitable that, even before he unpacked his bags in Devonport, the offers and requests would begin coming in. Music fans wanted to see Direen reform his backing band The Bilders and play some of the back catalogue he created in the 1980s and '90s for labels like South Indies and Flying Nun. Creative writing students intrigued by Bill's apocalyptic yet recalcitrant novels and short stories were eager to get his advice, whenever he popped over to the office at the University of Auckland which is one of the perks of the King fellowship. Europhiles wanted to know about Bill's experiences living in Germany and France over the last fifteen years. The Depot Arts Centre wanted to interview Bill as part of its 'New Zealand Cultural Icons' series, and the organisers of the Going West festival were keen for his presence at their shindig. All sorts of people wanted to contribute material to Percutio, the multilingual journal Bill publishes and distributes in both Europe and New Zealand. Old and new friends wanted to chat over a beer or two.

Bill has had a more hectic six months than he counted on, but he has still managed to produce a very respectable quantity of writing, and his relentless generosity has not gone unnoticed. Bill will be marking the end of Auckland sojourn with a gig next Wednesday night at the Wine Cellar, that collection of softly-lit rooms beneath Karangahape Road. Bill gave a fine acoustic performance at the Wine Cellar a couple of years ago, but next Wednesday he will be assisted by some of the musos who graced The Bilders back in the 1980s; this old crew replaces the youngsters who helped Bill record his 2008 album Chrysanthemum Storm.

Like The Bilders, the Kiwi literary journal brief seems always to be in a state of Heraclitean flux. Since the austere, splenetic Alan Loney launched brief back in the mid-90s, the publication has had more than half a dozen editors, who have guided it in a number of different directions. Despite or - more likely - because of its complicated history and the political battles which have sometimes broken out between past and present editors and their supporters, brief has established itself as part of the antipodean literary landscape, and is even respectable enough to get Creative New Zealand funding nowadays. brief's forty-first issue, which was put together by Richard von Sturmer, will be launched at six o'clock next Wednesday at the Auckland Zen Centre on 16 Church Street in Onehunga. I'll be coming to the launch to read an excerpt (a short excerpt, I promise) from 'An Annotated Guide to Mungo National Park', a piece which first turned up on this blog, but which reappears, after a spellcheck, in brief 41, and then heading up later in the evening to see Bill and his old cronies play at the Wine Cellar.

I was reminded of the longevity of brief when I discovered an old newspaper cutting in a box the other day. Back in 2004 the Sunday Star-Times ran a feature article on literary editors which featured a chat with Jack Ross, who had taken over responsibility for brief and was busy enraging Alan Loney by opening the journal up to a wider range of contributors and linking it to political issues like the cruelly prolonged stay of the Algerian asylum-seeker Ahmed Zaoui in Mt Eden prison. [click to enlarge]

Jack has a vast personal library - last year he set up a website with the name A Gentle Madness to catalogue its fifteen thousand volumes - and the photographer for Sunday Star-Times asked him to pose in front of one of his bookcases. I remember Jack telling me that he had realised, when the photo appeared in print, that he had been standing in front of shelves which housed books which were, in his words, 'a little bit dodgy'. I've squinted at the photo, but I can't make out many of the titles on the spines of Jack's books: can anybody help identify them?


Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

You don't need to identify many: since Jack's catalogue as I recall is topographic, if you identify one title you'll be able to also figure out the others.

6:58 pm  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

Actually the topography has shifted a bit since then, so it may not assist with the identification ... I see Henry James up there over my left shoulder, but also Colin Wilson on The Occult down there as well. Not as bad as I'd feared, though ...

8:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a mosque on church street

ha ha

3:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cover-up by Jack Ross in progress. I'm sure that's not Henry James.

5:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why the fuck is brief meeting in a temple?

Since when did it become the magazine of the 'ligious headcases?

Religion (mass delusion) is one of the most serious challenges to the future of our species.

Zen was the religion of Japanese fascism in WW2. Suzuki the great guru of contemporary Zen trained kamikaze pilots.

7:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who's in for a demonstration outside the temple

7:24 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

If Jack Ross hasn't read it, or glanced through it, or read about it, or scrutted it, studied it, or peered at it, or smelt it, thought about it, or collated and numbered it (topographically or otherely) in or into his vast library, or if he hasn't dreamed about it, or if...

The book isn't worth knowing about.

11:09 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Surely there's a difference between atheism and secularism, anon? A secularist upholds the separation of church and state; s/he does not demand that the state repress the church (or the temple).

I spotted JW Dunne's strange book An Experiment with Time, which seemed to JB Priestly and William Burroughs to demonstrate that time travel is possible, on the shelf behind Jack. I had the impression that other volumes on the shelf might have showed off Jack's enthusiasm for ancient erotica. It was this enthusiasm which, if I remember rightly, resulted in him running into a spot of trouble with customs once, when he tried to import a copy of The Golden Ass...

10:37 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Richard von Sturmer is much into Zen etc and also John Geraets is interested in Buddhism. I think that Wystan Curnow is also.he was there. Good to see he is well considering he was born in 1939. I think most writers have pretty tolerant views of alternative religions and ideas. They may or may not have been "fascists" and religion is problematic for orthodox Marxists etc but I have no quarrel with Zen etc

I see the way Marxism can itself become a kind of religion in fact. I think we have to accept the probably eternal imperfection of the world where there will be wonderful people and heroic people and others, as well as kamikaze pilots and so on...I have also rather admired the kamikaze's myself...last ditch and desperate and perhaps heroic efforts of one Imperialist nation against another...

The strange and ambiguous power of Idea.

But as to my admiration of the kamikaze's, from another aspect, that of self destruction, if you study the (terrible) results and the experiences I had in the recent NZ Chess Championship you might understand why!!

9:28 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It was good to see old lecturers of mine that I admire and respect very much - Roger Horrocks, Wystan Curnow, Murray Edmond. Michael Morrisey who is making a come back into writing via Brief was in great form with his fascinating "story". There are some interesting new young writers and a certain Mr Britton read some great poems from his new book from Kilmog Press.. Jack Ross also the great (younger) guru of NZ Literature (beautiful and quite mysterious poems /translations from Celan..which are really Jack's poems...if you read the intro to his & Smithyman's Italian poets' book...etc and my review of his EMO) with Bronwyn was there...and number of others. including Richard von (some of his poems have a mix of almost spiritual quiet and depth set against irony and even outright comedy) - there were no alcoholic beverages (but there was that nice white cheese and olives etc and some great fruit drinks) and I didn't miss them...Horrocks talked about Leigh Davis's last work 'Stunning Debut' which he wrote when he was dying. Davis was a kind of maverick genius...both a very rich and a very sensitive artist poet, showing that we have to be be careful not to put people in 'boxes' of preconceptions about them, as many Marxists and lefties tend to do in their enthusiasm, Wallace Stevens who was rich, Davis was well to do, but suffered like the rest of us, dying of cancer recently and courageously writing a book of poetry even as he knew he was dying. I think of Allan Loney as having a similar bristly courage as well as an annoying stubborness but e.g. his "Squeezing the Bones" etc are great writing, in fact he, the real Founder of Brief, was there in spirit much as he might have grumbled to the contrary...we value him and many others...Lisa Samuels read some intriguing and intricate poetry and the NZ-American writer Dale Johnson read from his revealing "travel" writing as did Scott Hamilton - some of his Mungo National Park experiences and mix of archeology and history and poetry etc

10:32 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

My son and I (and my daughter who is completing a PhD in Science and Health Psychology) are in a "battle" against WINZ (and thus I suppose the Government and the "ruling classes") and this struggle has a deep political import (to all people) as it concerns treatment of those who are more disadvantaged (the weak such as the old, the very poor, or those who are less able to defend themselves etc, but it links to the ruling class's increasing attack on workers /the people / at all levels) on Invalid's and other Social Welfare Benefits and also issues of mental health and justice (and perhaps the creeping fascism in the world and in NZ in these recent times post 9/11) I will ask Maps if he can put something together about this and the general issues arising when the present "litigation" has happened and I am, clearer about our status...

The result is I haven't had time to fully read as I would had liked all of the present Brief but it seems to be as rich as other issues...with some interesting younger writers contributing as well as the "old hands". contributing.

10:36 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think also this book and this author (Foucault -who I have only read "bits" but whose "bits" and what I heard about him found very interesting) might be relevant - as well as say a Marxist approach to the struggle -

Here is from Wikipedia

"Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is a book written by the philosopher Michel Foucault. Originally published in 1975 in France under the title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison, it was translated into English in 1977. It is an examination of the social and theoretical mechanisms behind the massive changes that occurred in western penal systems during the modern age. It focuses on historical documents from France, but the issues it examines are relevant to every modern western society. It is considered a seminal work, and has influenced many theorists and artists.
Foucault challenges the commonly accepted idea that the prison became the consistent form of punishment due to humanitarian concerns of reformists, although he does not deny those. He does so by meticulously tracing out the shifts in culture that led to the prison's dominance, focusing on the body and questions of power. Prison is a form used by the "disciplines", a new technological power, which can also be found, according to Foucault, in schools, hospitals, military barracks, etc. The main ideas of Discipline and Punish can be grouped according to its four parts: torture, punishment, discipline and prison."

This I think bears upon our own almost Orwellian or Kafkaesque (of say 'The Trial') recent experiences - sudden and arbitrary cutting of monies, ambiguous and sometimes unkind treatment by Psychiatrists and Nurses etc (this is NOT in my case to attack these Health workers or the whole Medical Profession or those involved in the difficult area of Mental Health or Social Welfare, and Government bureaucracy, and so is to show the dialectic of what is perhaps happening as I see it and perhaps we can generalise from there.

The recent activities of the controversial conceptual artist and "wit" Tao Wells are perhaps relevant also.

10:53 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The other book relevant perhps and what I was thinking of was 'Madness and Civilisation' by Foucault.

I have to say I find Philosophy etc very hard so I am now reading the Sparks Notes to that book in lieu!

They show how the subject (of art and creativity) can come back to madness or "unreason" fact Michael Morrissey, the novelist and writer, at the Brief launch, quite staunchly announced that "I am mad." the launch. This doesn't seem to have affected his creativity - it may be the source of his, and indeed perhaps of what is mine if I have Oliver
Sachs writings and TV series (perhaps not dealing (exactly) with madness but certain strangenesses or eccentricities of the mind/brain etc) have very much influenced my own writing. Or his way of writing and saying and his way of being present on TV...

Kendrick Smithyman "A Way of Saying".

So from poetry and literature to Marx to travel and history ancient and modern to sociology etc and Zen we circle say around and come back via history and philosophy to issues of power and madness and terms such as "discourse" and so on... to art and madness and power and truth... to the roles of Wikipedia and Spark's Student (cheat?) notes!!

The issues of justice, creativity and knowledge ... and much much more!

"But wait, there is more!"

11:25 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for those comments on the launch Richard. Michael Arnold, who has a lot to do with the continuing health of brief, did an audio record of the event and took a few photos: hopefully he'll send them to me soon, so I can put them up in a post, along with your report...

12:57 am  
Blogger maps said...

PS The Bilders really, really rocked last night. They seemed to play until three in the morning: certainly, they played until my beer money had run out. I've got some photos and rudimentary video footage of the gig, but it incriminates me in certain ways, so I may not post it...

12:59 am  
Anonymous Nate said...

Maybe it was a gathering which commonly doing for spiritual leaders. In which the the bilders band were fans wanted to perform.

9:58 pm  

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