Katharina Wulff’s exhibition “It Was Just This Moment” is at Greene Naftali Gallery in New York through December 23. Her latest large-scale paintings depict her community in Marrakech, portraying crowded gyms and a hotel lobby. “The free and somewhat anarchistic way people interact here is one of the many things I find really interesting about Morocco,” she said in 2012. “In Europe there’s practically no real communication anymore.”
What if you could remember every poem in the next life?
The dead play a sly trick on the living: in dying, they pass on the duty of interpreting what they thought, of arguing over what they said—or might have said, or even what they never said. This is how we get the fantasy, as stubborn as it is unrealizable, of interrogating the dead directly and without an interpreter. To meet them, just once, and to ask them to clarify what they’d said—or even, in certain cases, to ask if they said it at all. If only they would speak, all outstanding claims would be resolved, the contradictions smoothed over, the ambiguities explained. Confronted with the light of truth, all men would agree and no argument would be possible.
This fantasy has produced an entire genre of literature: the dialogue with the dead. One example of the genre in Arabic is The Epistle of Forgiveness (Risalat al-ghufran) by the eleventh century poet al-Ma‘arri, which narrates a journey to the life. Following the Day of Judgment, the hero Ibn al-Qarih is admitted into paradise, where he meets the poets he most esteems, or those whose verses have especially provoked his philological curiosity. During a sojourn in hell, he’s also permitted to interview the poètes maudits. And finally, returning to paradise, he meets Adam.
The Epistle of Forgiveness is a work of tremendous richness. My aim here is merely to examine what it says, directly or otherwise, about poetry and the forgetting of language. Read More
- When I’m on the job, I use periods in my writing all the time. They’re part of the buttoned-up, G-rated approachability that makes me such an asset to office culture. But when I’m off duty, you better believe the periods are the first thing to go, am I right? As Jeff Guo has noticed, “The period is no longer how we finish our sentences. In texts and online chats, it has been replaced by the simple line break … The modern line break is like the medieval punctus—an all-purpose piece of punctuation that inserts pauses wherever we’re feeling it. And the period has gained expressive powers after it was laid off from its job marking the ends of sentences. Now it’s an icy flourish we deploy against frenemies and exes. We should celebrate these developments. Writing is becoming richer. This is an exciting time. Period.”
- And in German-Turkish relations, grammar is playing a pivotal diplomatic role: “With impressive courage, a hip-hop band called Einshoch6 left their native Munich to keep a longstanding date on June 4 and, as one of them modestly put it, ‘set Ankara on fire’ with a concert and teach-in. Young Turkish German-learners took lessons in how to turn tongue-twisting Teutonic sounds into the verbal pyrotechnics of rap. Their trademark is combining rap vocals with classical instruments (or electronic versions of those instruments) and strong percussion … Along with their own exuberant, random ravings they have experimented with rap versions of the poetry of Goethe, and their whole output is an unlikely by-product of the intense classical-music culture of south Germany. But they send out a message that mastering compound verbs and case-endings needn’t be done with a long, studious face.”
- Hey, kid. Wanna get into the picture business? Don’t go to Tinseltown. It’s for chumps and floozies. Get yourself a one-way ticket to Marrakesh: “Morocco shares many of the advantages that first drew filmmakers to California: year-round sunshine, diverse landscapes, great old architecture and abundant available extras. Just recently Morocco and Britain signed a treaty giving each other reciprocal tax subsidies for film and television production. And since the UK and Morocco are in the same time zone, they keep the same business hours. My fascination with film was kindled in the New York editorial offices of a literary magazine, The Paris Review. My then boss, George Plimpton, recounted over lunch one day an adventure he had had long before—one of his stunts in participatory journalism—when he shipped off to Morocco to play a Bedouin extra on the set of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.”
- Because your year in the arts isn’t truly complete until you’ve seen an old elephant pull toy in the same building as a roach motel, visit the New-York Historical Society, where a new exhibition features folk art from the collection of Elie Nadelman: “The more than two hundred objects on display range from clipper ship figureheads (‘It was not just a sailor who carved this but an artist,’ Nadelman remarked of a ravishing gilded eagle with detachable wings) to miniature carved animals, amid a trove of carefully selected pottery, exquisitely detailed needle-cases, and an early, ingenious earthenware roach motel—the glazed, funnel-shaped opening of which traps roaches lured inside by molasses. This staggering array of material is complemented by a dozen or so of Nadelman’s wondrous figurative sculptures, fashioned in weathered cherry or mahogany and often given an overlay of seemingly aging paint.”
- In writing a book about indentured servitude in British Guiana, Gaiutra Bahadur faced a major research dilemma: no firsthand accounts existed by women. “Since indentured women were, for the most part, illiterate, they didn’t leave behind written traces of themselves. Just as there isn’t a single existing narrative from a woman or girl who survived the Middle Passage, the rare first-person accounts of indenture—there are three—are all by men. The stealing of the voices of indentured women, born into the wrong class, race and gender to write themselves into history, was structural. How could I write about women whose very existence the official sources barely acknowledged? To enter their unknown and to some extent unknowable history, I had to turn to alternative, unofficial sources. I looked for clues in visual traces and the oral tradition: folk songs, oral histories, photographs and colonial-era postcards, even a traditional tattoo on the forearms of elderly Indo-Caribbean women.”
- Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor whose novels won him the Nobel Prize, died this morning at eighty-six. “I was able use my own life to study how somebody can survive this particularly cruel brand of totalitarianism,” he told The Paris Review in 2013. “I didn’t want to commit suicide, but then I didn’t want to become a writer either—at least not initially. I rejected that idea for a long time, but then I realized that I would have to write, write about the astonishment and the dismay of the witness—Is that what you are going to do to us? How could we survive something like this, and understand it, too?”
- Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City takes David Wojnarowicz as one of its subjects. With Rebecca Mead, she looked at some of his early work: “The other day, Laing was in New York, and she stopped by the Fales Library, at N.Y.U., where Wojnarowicz’s archive is kept: photographs, diaries, recordings, and an orange crate crammed with odds and ends which he called his ‘Magic Box.’ ‘It feels like his work has this capacity for resisting all those silencings and false histories,’ Laing said, as she opened a folder containing an early series, ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York.’ The photographs, taken by Wojnarowicz in the late seventies, show a figure wearing a mask of the French poet’s face while riding the subway, masturbating in bed, wandering the decrepit Hudson River piers. ‘I can’t think of another artist who works in that same way—the more that attempts at silencing happen, the more potent they become,’ she said.”
- In 1947, Paul Bowles moved to Tangier and began writing The Sheltering Sky. Ten years later, he returned to the city to make field recordings of its vibrant music, now reissued as The Music of Morocco: “As Bowles saw it, Morocco’s sounds were forms of experience that had yet to be contaminated by Western influence … Bowles set off on his first recording expedition in mid-July 1959 in a Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to a Canadian expatriate friend, Christopher Wanklyn. He was forty-eight years old … Over the next five months, they took four separate trips—covering a distance Bowles estimated at 25,000 miles—returning to Tangier for a few days after each journey so that Bowles could check in on his wife, who was ill. Bowles recorded 250 pieces of music, in twenty-two separate locations, with an unwieldy twenty-eight-pound Ampex 601 tape recorder.”
- In midcentury Britain, where it was officially illegal to be gay, a secret language called Polari emerged as a means of clandestine communication: “Polari is a language of, in linguistic professor Paul Baker’s words, ‘fast put-downs, ironic self-parody and theatrical exaggeration.’ Its vocabulary is derived from a mishmash of Italian, Romani, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang, backslang—as in riah to mean ‘hair’—and cant, a language used by eighteenth-century traveling performers, criminals, and carnival workers. Many of the words are sexual, anatomical, or euphemisms for police … During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the language was used by merchant seafarers and people who frequented the pubs around London’s docks. In the 1930s it was spoken among the theater types of the West End, from which it crossed over to the city’s gay pubs, gaining its status as the secret language of gay men.”
- If you like your dead languages a little older, try Etruscan. Though few examples of it survive, archaeologists have just unearthed a five-hundred-pound slab of sandstone with seventy legible letters and punctuation marks—so things are about to get easier for the novice speakers. “Researchers with the University of Florence will be examining and conserving the sixth-century BCE stone … Being that it was found at a temple, salvaged for its foundation some 2,500 years ago, it’s likely the writing may relate to religion, potentially filling in gaps in historic knowledge of Etruscan practices … Deciphering Etruscan can still be difficult, as no literature or major written work still exists, and although it shares characteristics with the Greek alphabet, it was distinct.”
Abdellatif Laâbi’s poems are at war with barbarism.
In Le livre imprévu, his 2010 collection of autobiographical essays, the Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi suggested that there were “two branches of the human tree” with which he’d been in touch over the course of his turbulent life:
I think I know well miseries and luminosities, pettinesses and grandeurs, barbarism and refinement. Provisionally, I’ve fixed myself in the space between the two, the better to estimate the fault line that separates them and the state of the roots in which they meet far under the earth.
Laâbi has returned to the word barbarism throughout his career. “I am happy,” he wrote his wife in one of the many revelatory letters he sent her during his eight-year jail sentence under King Hassan II for “infringing on the internal security of the State.” He continued: “What a paradox for the barbarians, the enemies of the sun.” Early in L’arbre de fer fleurit, the first of several long poems he published from prison, one verse’s speaker encourages an unnamed friend to hold on when it comes time to take “your first steps in the barbarous night.” And the five poems collected in Laâbi’s first book, The Reign of Barbarism, were written in Rabat years before his arrest in 1972, but first published in 1976 by the publishing imprint of his friend Ghislain Ripault’s literary magazine Barbare. Read More
WSB [Paris] to Laura Lee and Mortimer Burroughs [Palm Beach, Florida]
[ca. November 17, 1959]
Dear Mother and Dad,
I am sorry.. Can only say time accelerated and skidded—No time to eat as you see in the photo—(Taken by my friend Brion [Gysin] the painter, certainly the greatest painter living and I do not make mistakes in the art world. Time will bear me out.. Brion used to run The 1001 Nights, restaurant night club in Tanger but at that time we barely spoke disliking each other intensely for reasons that seemed adequate to both parties.. Situation and per sonnel changed.. The 1001 Nights closed for dislocations and foreclosures and Brion woke up in Paris.. And I, stricken by la foie coloniale—the colonial liver, left the area on advice of my phy sician.. “You want to get some cold weather on that liver, Bur roughs. A freezing winter would make a new man of you,” he said.
So when I ran into Brion in Paris it was Tanger gossip at first then the discovery that we had many other interests in common..
Like all good painters he is also a brilliant photographer as you see.. A curious old time look about the photo like I’m fading into grandfather or some other relative many years back in time..)
Rather a long parenthesis.. It strikes me as regrettable that one should reserve a special and often lifeless style for letter to parents.. So I shift to my usual epistolary style.. When my correspondents reproach me for tardiness, I can only say that I give as much atten tion to a letter as I do to anything I write, and I work at least six and sometimes sixteen hours a day..
I am considering a shift of headquarters from The Continent— or possibly England—All we expatriates hear now is: “Johnny Go Home”and may be a good idea at that..Terrible scandal in Morocco.. Cooking oil cut with second run motor oil has paralyzed 9544 per sons.. The used motor oil was purchased at the American Air Base and was not labeled unfit for human consumption .. The Moroccan press holds U.S. responsible not to mention 9,544 Moroccans and a compound interest of relatives.. “Johnny stay out of Morocco.”
I want to leave here in one month more or less a few days and make Palm Beach for Christmas if convenient.
I was sorry to hear that Mote has been ill.. Take care of your self—Dad—and get well. I will see you all very soon —
PS. If my writing seems at times ungrammatical it is not due to carelessness or accident. The English language—the only really adjustable language—is in state of transition.. Transition and the old grammar forms no longer useful..