Wednesday, 1 August 2018

LRB - a philistine institution

The one good thing that happened in LRB recently was David Nirenberg's happy shooting down of Schama's ridiculous new book on Jews without wasting our time on a display of the reviewer's accomplishment at the expense even of an idea of what the book might concern - the more typical LRB mode. Led me to reading Nirenberg's Aesthetic Theology, the most imaginative and learned study of anti-semintism and the image as one could imagine and, at the same time, such a sophisticated and historically complex point of view that, despite a hint of paranoia, in his case a motivation to learning rather than to ignorance, it makes one realise how ridiculous and absurdly ignorant the current 'debates' around Corbyn and anti-semitism actually are. What a mess, what a parade of unpardonable stupidities on all sides, and all for the sake of the utterly dysfunctional IHRA definitions which solve neither the problems of freedom of thought(qv )nor of institutional inertia. Recall that the two brightest Labour leading figures seen off in recent years happened to be Jewish, the Miliband brothers, but I do doubt that there was any conscious prejudice. The UK does not have Jewish PMs nor Catholic nor, really atheist. Our current bunch of putschist parliamentarians are evidence enough the someone's undeclared interests in any event dissolve parliament as a functioning institution.

Anyway, despite this flare up of rare intelligence (I guess an all time low was T J Clark's defence of BREXIT) Perry Anderson's bullying and provincial comparison of POWELL and PROUST takes the cake and takes it again in its demonstration that he is scarcely able to think anything outside the blindfold of a provincial kind of marxo-historical conventionalism on the one hand and an incapacity to read text AT ALL on the other. I was never an admirer of Anderson and always thought that his master narratives of this and that historical transition or passage were of an order of the improbable at the level of what anyone can come to know at all, under any circumstances, unless one has tricked oneself into believing that one is intelligent design as such, and of the order of the creator. In fact that always was the problem with master narratives, not the idea of narrative as such but the deluded mastery of the master as such, the one who believes themself to be the one not only supposed to know, but the one who actually does.


if you read this

and can find this book

Laurent Nunez - L'enigme des premières lignes

and read the little chapter on Proust,
you will see



Friday, 18 May 2018

A quick stab

at the problem of description again. 
As usual my reading is in and endless, less than cosmic rebound between too many, I suppose, different kinds of text - a sub acute form of the aporetics of retirement - so called - if only, like inspector Maigret, I had some fishing rods - though I do have a couple of good, farmers' markets to hand, but that is not the issue. Somewhere between Barbara Pym, a study of Averroes, the ever present Tractatus as well as Wittgenstein's letters to Sraffa and a good new dose of Pepe Carvalho, the idea of describing them as an ensemble and that of raking them for structural homologies in the manner of the early Eco require different modes of attention from close to very close to rather distracted reading, one that leads, perhaps, to a poetics of retirement, otherwise known as not being responsible to an institution, nor even to the hors texte, but only to the texts as such and the fragile pretention to their 'inter-ness'.

The issues flit around with an almost desolate lack of urgency even though being urgent has never been my strong point, even in the 1970s when we really thought that capitalism would collapse and agitated to that end. So little urgency that, if I turn first to Pym as a support for my reflection, the rounds of thought of one of her shabbily elegant or elegantly shabby spinsters, living in a nearly specified part of London or an unnamed village or an almost Oxford

(BTW, see youtube, Specters of Communism, performance series two, Haus der Kunst, Adrian Rifkin, for a recent exercise in this mode )

anyway, be that as it may I wrote a little piece for the Solitary Pleasures show at the Freud Museum, London, which is in the book, but here is a free copy. There is no reason for you to pay for one as somehow, in these rigorous days, copyright assignment was overlooked:

Two’s Company, One’s a Crowd

I was wandering, lonely enough, in search of a quotation of which I could hardly trace the source, in notes, in files, no trace, I thought it was to hand, so first thing last, of course, I found it on the internet: it was, as it happened, something I had written, I myself, or rather used, alone, once before, at this computer. Above it were two incipits which, now, I want to use again, because they do put me in mind of this essay, as well as setting up what I had already, once, written. Here they are. I am dropping the authors as these are just isolated, lonely memories of me, that came to me via the internet.

Who am I? I had asked. / Who am I? I replied. / Repetition is, in its difference, accomplishment.


There is no speech without response, even if it meets only silence, provided there is someone to hear it.

When I watch jack-off videos on gay sites on the internet, and, indeed, I often do, they offer something of the comfort of the thoroughly indeterminate, the indeterminacy of the enunciation, or the signifier as such, a crowd of lovely daffodils, the rippling field of near identical singularities, near identical in this way or that, an identity itself indeterminable other than the endless shadings of small and greater differences. The truth of the matter is that I find them, on the whole, quite tedious and sometimes unwatchable. On anything longer that 14 seconds, I tend to skip a bit, to jump and see what happens at the end. On the truly long ones, sometimes as much as a quarter of an hour, those of the expert edgers who know how to delay the moment, and, even then, when it comes, to prolong it, I might become so riven in my attention, that the minutes pass quicker than mere seconds.

Not unlike a standard TV thriller, the end is always and already known, and suspense lies not in the narrative itself, but rather in its details, the outcome of the very next ‘frame’ or edit; with the author, the quality of the scenario, so as to speak. What can he wring out of himself, and what will it signify to me, for me, whether it is much or little, protracted or instantaneous, shot into the air, across a coffee table, staining a settee, against a mirror or even, oh dread, onto the camera lens itself? For me, that is, in my singularity, the absolute particularity in the probable crowd of other viewers; crowds, readers, viewers, daffodils, clouds, cumshots; can I hold on to that, you see, it’s just to do with that, that holding on perhaps is, as such, solitary, though whether in its success or relinquishment, I might find it hard to say.

At the same time, it is not unlike the self-conversational landscape of one of those highly educated women of Barbara Pym’s novels who, more or less alone in their middle age, turn their thoughts around such issues as these: will the new curate enjoy boiled chicken? What can it mean to and for her if the archdeacon tells her that one of her circle has knitted him socks a little ‘short in the feet…’? what precisely, at each moment of its possible recurrence, is the nature of the ‘need’ for a cup of tea? The instances multiply to become the body of one novel, or a dozen novels, of a whole oeuvre. Reading these novels on the Overground I feel no readier to concede my laughter to a neighbour than I do to show them a video, even a few seconds of some gasping and immense sublimity. That is to say the episteme of what we might call a collectivity of monads, or of a certain loneliness in the frame of a repetitive sociability already and, perhaps, always analogically links the most improbable comparatives.

In any event I had thought to valorise these lost and lonely hours like this. I was to make an art video installation of some kind. I had noticed, quite early on in my years of viewing, that the point where these videos take off is, queerly enough, at their very end: the moment when the actions of the hand, the squelching and so forth are sublimated in a groan, a series of grunts when another singularity emerges, the grain of a body that is in the throat. It was enough that I was, am here to hear it. So the project was and remains this: that I would, and perhaps will, take the best downloads from my collection and swiftly edit them so that however long or short, and on the simplest of algorithms, they would play over and over until, finally, before the loops begin again, they all groan together. These videos should play with the image too dark to see and the sound turned up to the point of absolute displeasure. Hard to measure, but at least my two old incipits would be once again fulfilled in solitude’s own, final, crowded shot.

Mother/Oven, use of the one by the other

A friend who grew up in Puglia said to me, just the other day, when we were discussing the merits of eating various Mediterranean foods at room temperature that

'for my mother the oven was just another cupboard'

for those of us with severe refrigeration neurosis this is quite a scary idea, everything from botulism to whatever flares up, although my mother and her mother who came to live in England both used a heavy stone table as if it were a fridge and I survived

Anyway to conjure the fear I made four images in imitation of my favourite food painter, Sanchez Cotan, but composed with modern ingredients. see below:

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Horror

Honour the Nakba

15 May 2018

I can think of no more to say to day than this.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Letter to the Guardian re: Hylas, with or without water nymphs

Dear Arts Editor

Regarding the dispute over Hylas, I want to simply record that, as a young gay man growing up in 50s and 60s Manchester, and queer art historian to-be,  Hylas was one of my lifelines to an imaginary world of desire found in images of men. As I knew the myths inside out the nymphs were thus nothing more than an excuse for Hylas himself, a companion to Waterhouse’s Narcissus, not far away at the Walker. - snd a precursor to seeing Caravaggios. These and an illustration of Draper’s Icarus in an Edwardian book of Greek Myths, and oddly missing from the Queer show at Tate Britain, formed an initial iconography of my own becoming, along with all kinds of other, oddly assorted images; soldiers under tropical skies in the National Geographic or South Pacific, male muscle magazines glimpsed in a book shop near the Cathedral and so on. But all of them being parts of a preparation for life.  Forty years after Laura Mulvey’s critique of the male gaze, which was an attempt to understand pleasure, not to outlaw it, this rather trivial gesture can only be understood as politically shallow. But more than that as in insult to someone who has lived at a tangent to the hetero-normative discourses of which, indeed, it is a fragment.

yours etc

Adrian Rifkin

Visting Professor at Central Saint Martins, London
Emeritus Professor of Art Writing, Goldsmiths, London.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Disagreement and fear of kitsch

As we all know nothing can divide friends more radically than taste, far from some Humean, gentlemanly accord, as it could then be assumed, it comes even between loved ones. I recall seeing American Beauty, when it came out, with a group of people very dear to me. They seemed so happy with it as we left that I said that I would not go and eat and be seen to be eating with a group of people who found such terrible kitsch even vaguely acceptable. Of course in the end it we all agreed that it was but that there are different ways of passing a good enough evening, of which eating together would still be the better part. 

Art is just is bad from that point of view, or rather what claims to be art, and I think here of the last few years of William Kentridge and his to me insupportably pompous and trivial immersive videos, mega kitsch destruction of Winterreise, not as bad as Boltanski, his absurd writing over of Lulu, post-Maoist sentimental criticalities,  not to mention his imperial vandalising of the once patinated riverside in Rome, the lot, quoi? Everything in Kentridge leads back to him, to his hand, to his genius, to his accomplishment, at the end of every trail he lays it is he who is the signified, and so, far from making art, he destroys signification as such. I have been seeking for an explanation of why so many writers I admire and even friends have fallen for his tricks.

In the bath a couple of mornings ago I came up with this. Probably at some point in their childhood they had been forbidden to enjoy Disney's Fantasia by severely tasteful parents, and, seeking an officially non kitsch version of the same, have found it, legitimated by Goodman Galleries, in WK. This led me to realise why I dislike his stuff so much, Disney the first time was, as they say, tragedy, but the second time is *****. Kentridge's illustrations of Schubert are infinitely more horrible than Stokowoski's conducting of classical pops.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Found in an old archive box, late 70s? very early 80s?

life Was Hard

There is a copy Nicos Hadjinicolaou's book at the elbow....nothing queerish alas.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Communards etc etc etc

The wonderful edition of essays by me edited and stunningly re-read by Steve Edwards will be out in paperback on November 14.... I place below here the cover chosen by the press.

I was puzzled.

then I thought this:


in a world where one is re-read and re-invented by others, this press has realised the profound effect of the writings of Elizabeth David on my formation, especially French Country Cooking. So I am happy with it, it's a kind of proper, materialist choice.

it might have been nice to have a cover by the late John Craxton, but that would, I fear have been terribly expensive... and, in the difficult tacking between money, queerness, sales and materialism, we come out of it well enough.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Hum, Humm, Hummm ... instructive reading and other summer things.

I am, together with my other, a greedy watcher of many things in episodes, we even did Heimat, all of it, in a continuous series, over a few weeks, of three episodes at a time, not to mention Deadwood and Nashville and a German version of Buddenbrooks, Intelligence, not The Wire (hate that dumb Etonian English actor), so it was instructive to read this reflection on the episodic from a Barbara Pym novel, Excellent Women:

with thanks to Virago Modern Classics

In the usual sense a lot and nothing changes, but this is at least stamped with the tremendous and bold use of a trope of the absurd, culturally driven in the frame of it becoming possible to equate Tennyson and Dostoyevsky. This balance of the absurd and the ontologically dreadful, so different from contemporary cultural theory, is closest to true screwball in its elegant sense of the onto-lite, as I call it: so one more extract from the same novel before launching into other summertime colours:

Back from Bayreuth and Munich,

this Francis of Carlos Saraceni seems to be the same model as his San Rocco in Rome, much queerer or more faggy than ever was poor Caravaggio, but now back to Wagner....

yes, one does.  This year Tristan and Parsifal were very good indeed musically but intensely irritating at the level of pointless brutalist details in Tristan (Katharina Wagner) and humanist ones in Parsifal (Laufenberg, to reproach them both by name) 

Left with an intense annoyance, as ever, at the straight episteme that is only equalled in its short-sighted fear of the sexual as the queer episteme is ridden by its urgency to show everything. (Try watching Truffaut's La Sirène du Mississippi', which we did last night, what an trial of retrograde and trivial sexual neurosis, in every way) On the whole the bêtises of Wagner's stories can be left to the musical resolutions, just as Truffaut's can't be left to the indifferent editing,  provided the production can have at least one good idea, or just several ravishing forms of lighting, or simply, as in the Castorf Ring, a radically new and leftist-critical engagement with the idea of the gesamptkunstwerk as such, though hardly simply as it really added levels of attention to the music we had never before paid (last year, not this). But if flower maidens from the repressed straight fantasy of the oriental brothel get crossed hatched with surveillance dread, much is lost in attention to the sound, and closing the eyes leads to slumber - albeit agreeable. 

However the acoustic is still triumphant there, in that opera house, and though Brangaene was lying on her back at the bottom of the set for the warning from the watchtower, the voice floated over other musical textures with a confounding ambiguity. Voilà, that's what one goes for. But also I like thinking profane unmusical things, such as that the Isolde is really a good German gel whose mother expected nothing less of her than to triumph at Bayreuth, while the Tristan is really a nice New York Jewish boy whose mother is terribly proud of him and who, once dubious at his becoming a singer, has now stopped referring to him as 'my son the doctor'. 

I wonder too if they notice, as in her case, that I was there for her Song of the Earth at the Barbican, perhaps the best I ever heard live, and in his that I also heard him at Covent garden, just as I always imagine that Ben Whishaw, with whom I am helplessly in love, is only acting because of me and for me, while Nicole Kidman is floated on my immense admiration for her capacity to trap the gaze and to lay it down where and when she wishes.

I did once meet a great singer - Jon Vickers - after a performance of Aida at the Manchester Opera House - in the '60s, but there was not much to be said or gained, whereas a very old family friend, rocketed into these atmospheres seems intimate with all of my cherished myths as mere eaters of breakfast and dinner and so forth. Being a fan is being a fan, and a fan is a fan is a fan, and can only be sustained as a form of being in the absolute absence of any intimacy with the object(s). I think that, were I to find myself in fast-track security with Ben I would sprout dangerous devices just to get out as quickly as possible.