Monday 24 December 2018

An Xmas message: a possible impossible. Some years

ago, too many to bear in mind, not because it is long, but rather on account of the the time it takes to deal with the consequences, and as I well enough know, I tried to do so, a friend, a brilliant observer and practitioner of the then dominant mode of gay kitsch, of a style that reaches an apogee in the public discourse of Wayne Koestenbaum, drew my attention to the Shangri Las, whom I had quite forgotten, and gave me two CDs to back up this reminder.
on earth had I forgotten them.
I guess it was on account of so many ways of hearing, the where and the when, and the what one was doing in that where and when. For example, when I listened to Dylan's first LPs or my very first recordings of Beethoven's late quartets, that came a bit before Dylan and even before, to take another random example, Strawberry Fields, I sat in from of a large monaural hi-fi speaker and looked at it attentively, just like the HMV dog, Nipper. But also there is something to do with sexuality, I do believe. So, in the end the master's voice, were there to have been one, would, in all possibility, have been the girl group, and it took me over thirty years to get that, at all.

It might be said that the Beethoven was something heard with intricate perplexity, attending to the idea of a mobile, protean perfection as utterly irrational and now, when I notice bits of that even in the earliest piano sonatas, there is some resolution (of something) in understanding how long it takes to find an énoncé. Dylan was more a matter , might have been more a matter, of the absolute mystery of an énoncé that was not other enough to be unhear-able, but that was in its apparent authenticity grippingly alien to anything I myself might becoming, Gipsy girl, the hands of Harlem, feel really real? Looking at the speaker, riven, over and over again, until the grooves like those of the Supraphon Beethovens and the Cetra Rigoletto were wearing hoarse, I could find nothing of myself there but my absence, which was more than a good enough discovery. I wish and wish and wish in vain(Tommy Makem singing the Butcher Boy), I wish and wish and wish in vain that we were together in that room(Bob Dylan's Dream), truth to a sequence, finding a place or no space in this precession.

So when D O put to me the Shangri Las, Long Live Our Love (something's come between us but it's not another girl - well it's supposed to be the Vietnam war, but it must have been at least another boy), Leader of the Pack. Listen, no just listen, as Frankie Howard would have insisted, no, a slap on my wrists, just listen, from the age of 14 I was blossoming into a disco bunny and I had danced so much by 18 or 19 that I must have shaken and twisted and jived and rocked and madisoned to every top forty of half a decade, and listened night after night to Caroline and Luxembourg, so I must have heard, and moved to every Shangri song that fitted there. 

So if I could not recall them, it must have been something to do with being unable or unwilling to hear myself in the babel of hetero-interpellation or, later in the 60s, the unbearable coolness of art-gayness in London, and so I (one) could bury one(my) self in the polymorphous exchanges of the hippy art fringe and by the time it sorted itself out. Dylan remained and the kernel of as near as possibly pure authenticity at the heart of the Shangri Las as the masquerade of near absolute kitsch fell into terrible and unmerited desuetude. It was sacrificed on a self-immolating altar of Adorno for Kitsch, Barthes for grain, mutually excluding demands for judgement and half-understanding and a certain obedience to a manifest and long pre-queer tradition. Oh yes, Eliot's Four Quartets were always queerer than Dylan, but Dylan remains something as close to a universal as I have ever found, but Long Live our Love is the only thing near to an anthem.

Except for this: once put as a question "Was Handel gay?" the answer could not come from empirical research, but for me came like this at the moment of listening again to Long Live our Love. Yes, it is obvious, but above all and self-evidently when you listen to William Christie's version of Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus re-transmits the Shangris, Donna Summer and the whole baggage of queer disco, techno, the lot. Faggy is as faggy does, not so much a performative as a whole series of performances.

Footnote. At Elisabeth Price's Turner award party (The Woolworth Fire) I said to her, how marvellous it was to see the Shangri Las there, as a kind of visual and audio syntax. To my surprise she said 'but you should be pleased, when I was doing my PhD it was ALL you would talk about'. Twice forgotten, but not now shy. What goes around rarely comes around. Action is always deferred.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

to CEO of TUMBLR re:infantilising, ending adult content.

This is not sensitivity, it is new right moralism. it is damaging to many forms of self expression, an abuse of the right to make a decision about what to watch or not watch, an exclusion of legitimate minority expression, in short it stinks of fascist morality. For whom are you working, beyond the billions you no doubt pocket?

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.