Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Jack's archipelago

I wanted to thank Jack Ross for putting me on the same (web)page as that coolest of cool literary dudes, Hunter S Thompson. The inventor of gonzo journalism and I both decorate the blog that Jack has set up for the students of the Travel Writing Course he teaches at the Albanian campus of Massey University.

At the top of the page dedicated to the eleventh lecture of Jack's paper, the cigarette-slinging Thompson broods in black and white, during his expedition to a chemically enhanced Las Vegas; at the bottom, I peer through the windscreen of a 1994 Honda Integra at the rumpled green countryside west of Huntly. Hunter wears a hat because he's cool; I wear a hat because rain has blown in off the Tasman, and the roof of my vehicle is leaking. Jack presents us both as exponents of 'anti-travel', and brings Hackney perambulator Iain Sinclair and wannabe cosmonaut Daniel Kalder into the deal, as well.

With its pages of calm exegesis, its detailed but never pedantic bibliographies, and its carefully captioned illustrations, the blog for paper 139.326 will be useful to students inside and outside Massey. I hope that Jack's democratic spirit catches on amongst the academics who are still hiding their knowledge behind firewalls, and are thereby disenfranchising the communities they study.

Jack's travel writing site is only one island in an online archipelago that he has raised fussily but quietly over the past six years. As well as building sites for the various papers he teaches at Massey Albany - here's the blog for 139.123, or introduction to Creative Writing - Jack has recorded his own reading and writing on webpage after webpage.

When Nigel Cross was made a Burns Fellow at Otago University at the end of the '50s he set out to write a novel, and reportedly kept students and staff up to date with his progress by posting charts recording his daily and weekly outputs of words on the door of his office. Anyone who visited the blog Jack named Eva Ave could have read his science fiction novel EMO as it grew, one post at a time, into something big and complex.

On the blog he has named A Gentle Madness, Jack documents his library with the sort of austere zeal that would have pleased Jorge Luis Borges. Clicking on the hyperlink for 'Bookcase F', I find myself browsing shelf after shelf of 'Spanish and Latin American Literature', and coming face to face with half-famous, half-forgotten modernists like Vicentre Huidobro and Cesar Vallejo. Another section of the site lists books that Jack would like to own.

There are, it seems, limits to the democratic impulse that has led Jack to make so much of his academic and creative writing available for free. A note on the preface page of A Gentle Madness explains that:

Requests for the loan of any of the books or materials listed here will not be entertained seriously. It seems most unlikely you won't be able to find a nearby public library which can obtain the titles you're searching for.

Fair enough. We can't expect Jack to do everything for us, can we?

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

Has Jack talked (written, read?) about this bloke? I take notes from books I read. You know this book of crit. by Goeff Dyer, here the notes I took refer to the Polish travel writer (who he compares a little unfavourably to Chatwin).

"It is often unclear whether he is recycling dispatches sent forty years ago or is only now writing up his hoard of experience. Chronology is deliberately uncertain, the sequence fragmented. Rival tenses jostle for dominance within the same page. Like this, his prose has the unsteady immediacy of the moment and a measure of historical reflection.

"...A great imaginative writer, he not only processes his material but also goes beyond it. His books may be rooted in his own experience, but the year full of amazing digressions, little essays – in Imperium - on how to make cognac, on the history of the Armenian book, on anything and everything. And yet these digressions are always integral to the conception of the work. In his nomadic life he has described real places – like the city of crates in Angola in the famous opening of Another Day of Life....dozens of mini-novels and their characters stray briefly into view and then move on: “All of Africa is in motion, on the road to somewhere, wondering.”

[From Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer.]

"He is lyrically succinct – in the stupor of noon, a village was “like a submarine at the bottom of the ocean: it was there, but it emitted no signals, soundless, motionless - and
often hysterically funny. Terror gives way to absurd slapstick, and vica versa. Either way, an endless capacity for astonishment holds sway. He is an unflinching enthusiast and an exuberant stylist.
And yet many...seem not even to have heard of him. In this respect, he is the victim of a received cultural prejudice that assumes fiction to be the loftiest preserve of literary imaginative distinction...K’s radically unconventional approach,..., is entirely novel in the
literal sense that no one else attempts anything like it. His material generates an apparently ad hoc aesthetic that draws on the chaos threatening to engulph him. The outcome – the formal outcome – is perpetually uncertain, in the balance, hence the suspense...

....[some resemblance to Chatwin’s Songlines.]
but The Shadow of the Sun shows Bruce Chatwin for what he was: the rich man’s
Kapuścińskí! His daring – actual and literary – is underwritten by an awareness of
how politics complicates empathy, and of how sympathy implicates politics.

1:02 am  
Blogger Richard said...

There he is, a white man in Africa at the moment when countries are liberating themselves from the shackles of colonialism. But Kapuścińskí is from a country [Poland] that has been repeatedly ravaged by the imperial ambitions of its neighbors. He knows what it means “to have nothing, to wander into the unknown and wait for history to utter
a kind word.” This is one of the reasons he feels at home in Africa, among the wretched of the earth. In other respects, he is utterly alien, making the attempt to “find a common language” more exacting. To K it is not Manhatten or of La Defense in Paris “that represents the highest achievement of human imagination,” but a “monstrous” African shantytown – an entire city erected without a single brick, metal rod, or square metre of glass!” The torpor of the wretched is matched by a quite phenomenal resourcefulness. Likewise, he never played down the violence and corruption he witnessed – on the contrary, their prevalence makes the survival of kindness the more remarkable."

[From Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer. (Writing on The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuścińskí.]

------------------ -----------------
I haven't read anything by K and only part of 'In Patagonia' but I have read 2 novels by Chatwin. 'Fear and Loathing' is worth reading to get to know what he is or has done but it, I think, is relatively trivial over all. '

I've never got greatly into travel writing, I must read more. I did like Dervla Murphy's autobiography, it read like a novel: it was very good, quite moving also. My mother read a lot of travel, sci fi, novels (lit., crime, and much else).

It seems it can be a major part of the creative approach. I see Murray Edmond is there, but there is also W. G. Sebald...who I believe M.E is sick of hearing himself compared to.

But it's good you are on there. Jack has done a vast amount of work. I recommend his novel (I reviewed it). I think it is one of the most original NZ works ever written, esp. in the formal sense. The writing has an eerie power, also, at times. Of course it is not the kind of book to win the Booker. It might have though, it has some of the intensity of 'The Bone People' (despite that great work is a very different kind of book in other ways, I mean the tone...and some of the strangeness)

1:02 am  
Blogger Richard said...

To correct the above: I meant that the tone and the 'strangeness', at some level, of both books, has some similarity - despite wide differences in other ways.

1:05 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hello, Skyler! Mike Morrell asked me to contact you because he really appreciates your blog and thinks you'd be an excellent candidate for his Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it's free to join. Sign up here, if you'd like:

10:05 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

sorry for the non-response: have hardly been at a computer this week! Reading Dyer's The Colour of Memory, a novel about Brixton slackers in the eighties at the moment: very good!

I think Human Condition has an intensity that its follow-up, Working the Room, lacks. Too many commissioned pieces that lacked real impetus there, I reckon. I admire the way Dyer writes about photography. I think he gets a bit carried away, though, in Zona, his book-legnth account of watching Tarkovsky's Zone.

Did you read his recent piece for the LRB about moving to LA and suffering a minor stroke?

5:22 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I haven't read his Novel. I think that he overwrites sometimes. I read another of his critical books. However he mostly writes well about photography, and some sculpture (Rodin's, who he got to via Rilke - this lead me to look at Rodin's magnificent 'The Gates of Hell' (there's a book about the making of it).

[The point is that he was reviewing a book (photgraphs by Jennifer Gough-Cooper, I've seen it, it is good) about Rodin's work but as it was also really a book of photography, it then went into that, and the way Rodin himself came around (from initially rejecting it) to accept that photography was indeed a significant or great art form (and useful) and he worked with Steichen, who acknowledged that his photographs of Rodin's work helped his own career also...]

On Wiki I heard he had had small stroke. I must look at that.

He is also good on travelers - hence my UNANSWERED question above. He writes enthusiastically on Rebecca West's great tome ('Black Lamb and Grey Falcon' about Yugoslavia which even today is used as a kind 'travel guide' by many travel writers, and Dyer liked it.

Is Dyer as a novelist up to the mark? Would H. Dewe approve of him?

9:23 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I started that book 'Black Lamb and Grey Falcon', nothing wrong with it, except it was a library book, and I had to return it, I may purchase it sometime. I didn't know much about the place so I thought it would be a good way to start (I printed a map in colour of the area, as I was totally confused as to where all the fragmented parts of the place were).

I mentioned Rebecca West's name to a local character who is from Dalmatia, as soon as he heard it he said: 'Black Lamb and Grey Falcon' Which was a book he approved of. I suppose of course a lot has happened since but read Dyer on it, his enthusiasms are infectious, regardless of his sometimes overwritings.

(I did read a book about a NZ Doctor how risked his life working among partisans in Yugoslavia during the war, but I forget what it was called or who wrote it).

Without seeing it, I'm not so keen on him writing about being on a US Carrier although I suppose one should read it first.

9:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Tarkovsky, I saw part of one of his films on YouTube. Mind you Dyer spent years on the dole, and also years taking pot, dallying with young women, and searching the world for the ideal coffee and doe-nut. That search, that search for the ideal coffee or place to stop and eat and think by oneself, and have something like a doenut and a coffee, I can relate to, forget the long films and all the rest, that struck a chord for me: that real moment of necessarily solitary pleasure. It mattered that the waitresses didn't talk to him when he attained this fabled doe-nut and coffee, but if the 'wrong' waitress was there, the result was nearly tragic. He sought the truth of life through a coffee and a doe-nut, and maybe a place, and perhaps a book.

9:37 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home