Friday. Rather sad evidence that Catholic Christianity wasn't that unpopular in Tudor England after all, but was suppressed by a sustained campaign of force followed by a very successful rewriting of history.
Thursday. Wake up on my sofa back in Budapest. Long day of work. Meanwhile in Russia, a circus crocodile is injured by a falling accountant.
Wednesday. Woken just after dawn in Robin's studio by a bird flying around. Groggily I first think it is part of the gang of noisy creatures who live under the roof panelling and rustle around at night, scratching, snuffling, and squeaking, trying essentially to sound as large as they can. Then I think there is a birds' nest, or that birds have somehow tunnelled through from the next-door stables where every roof beam over Solero's head has a swallows' nest bustling with cheeping baby-fledgling activity plus parents flying in and out. As I slowly awaken, I realise there is just one of them. I have to get dressed and open the door to let the unhappy fowl out of the big room.
Tuesday. Woken early in studio by an inch-and-a-half-long wasp looking a bit like
Cajoled the poor love into a drinking glass, capped the top with a British silver hallmarks catalogue, and shook him out of the window.
Monday. Finish reading another of Robin's books. 'Ride The Tiger' by Julius Evola near the end of his life, is an early-1960s recommendation for how people who don't fit into the current age ("aristocrats of the soul") can live their lives. The book recaps some of the themes from his book 'Revolt Against The Modern World' about the vulgarity and decadence of western civilisation since the decline of chivalric Christianity. The Italian Renaissance in the opinion of this curious early-20th-century Italian was not the end of Europe's Dark Age but the beginning of a new Dark Age. An interesting section is his attack on Nietzsche (whom he acutely reads as losing his bearings in a new form of individualistic nihilism instead of seeking to reorient himself in the Apollonian transcendence of "Tradition"), followed by his attack on existentialism. Evola credits existentialists with some insights, but over several chapters he lays out what he sees as decadent, fragmented, and anti-transcendent about Heidegger's and Sartre's discussions of the "thrown-in-ness" of life. Another interesting section is about 20th-century physics: "One of the principal exponents of modern physics, Heisenberg, has explicitly admitted this in his book: it is about formal knowledge enclosed in itself, extremely precise in its practical consequences, in which, however, one cannot speak of knowledge of the real." Evola regards both the music of jazz and the beat generation as a regression to primitive dissolution into anti-social individualism. He views the spiritual claims of modern physics as bogus, with similarly lofty disdain for popular occultism & faddish spiritualism. All forms of social disintegration, high-minded Evola insists.
Sunday. Robin's friend Rupert from London arrives in the evening. Over dinner he tells us about
his year with Nigeria's national bank.
Saturday. Transylvanian Lacko gives Robin a handy rule of thumb while they deal with the carcass of Samu the former ram: apparently you multiply the weight of one kidney by 1,000 to get roughly the mass of the whole sheep. So just under 4oz / just over 100g scales up to just less than 250lb / just over 100kg.
Friday. Robin picks me up after 8pm from Lakitelek station (now sadly minus the big old tree in front) and we drive back to the village along empty lanes in the last golden sun of early evening. As green leafy trees ripple the sunset down one straight stretch of country road Robin toots the car horn cheerfully at a pretty girl in a short tight day-glow orange frock. She cheerfully wiggles her bottom and does a little dance as we whizz past. Seconds later we zoom past a girl in jeans and a green top again tooting, and she waves exuberantly at us and does her own little dance.
Thursday. Psychology Eszter mentions narcissistic photographers who have other people take photographs of them taking photos.
And here's a chortlesome history essay assembled out of Canadian schoolboy howlers. But wait - these were written by - university students??
Wednesday. Back in Budapest I walk through the shopping centre and again have to look at the ridiculous display hanging in the central atrium as I pass it. This is an area by the lifts where a well of space spans three floors. For at least two weeks, on vertical wires have been strung a random collection of objects like a laptop, a canoe, a garden chair, a beachball, dozens of other things - all tilted at different angles. The effect is of seeing the mid-air debris from an exploding house frozen in time. The thing I keep glancing at is the giant teddy bear strapped into a pushchair, suspended sideways in a vaguely horrific way. I suppose they want to evoke a crazy, anarchic mood of summer shopping fun.
Tuesday. Get lift back into town. Hot sun. Deep shadows. Irritable shoppers who are hot and bothered. Bold journalist experiments with not washing.
Monday. Zsuzsi's horse Solero arrives. A large handsome young gelding, coloured glossy chestnut with a lozenge-shaped patch of cream fur on his forehead, he seems gentle and good-natured. He lets me stroke him and ruffle the start of his black mane. He is the first horse for ten years to occupy the long-empty stables, one side of which is now stuffed to the rafters with big cubes of straw (in which, somewhere at the back Poppy, the cat with the black-and-white markings of her father Pompom has hidden her new kittens). Both Lacko and Gyuri seem to know about horses. The mother and daughter Komondor sheepdogs are both bounding around, but have not yet been introduced to Solero the horse, a day or two of non-dog calm being felt good while the steed gets used to his new surroundings. Often not easy to see which end is which except from the direction they bustle, both hounds look like dirty off-white rainclouds rendered in some solid but soft material. Or at least the way rainclouds might look if they could bark and bounce through long grass.
Meanwhile, just over the border in Ukraine, Owen Matthews' view seems increasingly plausible.
Sunday. In countryside with crowing cockerels, snuffling sheepdogs, plus insect trilling and birdsong. Read Robin's copy of 'Mystery of the Cathedrals' by the odd prewar French writer Fulcanelli. The fact the writer vanished from public life, even his friends apparently unable to find him, after entrusting the manuscript to one of his students in 1926, of course adds to the charm. The book, with 49 monochrome photographs, purports to show how the true techniques of alchemy are hidden yet displayed within riddling, allegorical sculptures and bas-relief stone images on Notre-Dame-de-Paris, the Cathedral of Amiens, and a couple of other buildings. Fulcanelli follows the old convention that some knowledge should be transmitted in puzzles so that only the morally & intellectually worthy can acquire its power, so much is left politely unclear. The overall effect is intriguing, not least because the author seems to believe the metaphors and symbols encode genuine recipes and processes, rather than forming parts of a larger metaphor, as Jung suggested. I find myself reading much of the book in an alert frame of mind, walking or standing up outdoors, shaded from the sun.
Saturday. Catch train into the countryside to visit Robin. Intermittent rain: April showers
in May. A woman plucks up the courage to say she doesn't enjoy having
At Robin's, finish a slim 2006 book from London, perhaps from his friend Amir, called 'Contemporary Art', by Julian Stallabrass. This book is
both fascinating and irritating. It's fascinating because Stallabrass knows a great deal about contemporary art, has read a lot, and mentions many artists, critics, and curators worth following up on. Irritating because he takes for granted that Marxism provides a meaningful background to today's world, drops in the phrase "neoliberalism" wherever he can as if he understands what it means, and has a glib Guardianesque style. His is the typical left-wing editorial patter rich with snide references to curators "roaming the world like multinational executives" (as if that obviously makes them bad people) or the disaster of shock capitalism affecting post-Soviet Europe (of course he fails to grasp that it was the criminality of 70 years of Soviet one-party rule that caused the economic collapse after that system broke down in 1990, not some rapacious virus-like element of free trade entering from abroad). He sweepingly assumes he and his readers can take a lot of facts for granted, so they don't have to be proven (just as well since most of them are false). Every paragraph is marinaded in this casual socioeconomic ignorance wielded with off-hand confidence. This cocky attitude both annoys any reader who actually knows a little bit about history, economics, politics, or sociology, and cramps his overall view of contemporary art. The large-scale agenda of the book is therefore borderline worthless, except insofar as it gives an excellent insight into a large milieu of other artists, critics, and curators who also live their lives and do art on the basis of similar mistaken theories. Stallabrass and many of the people he works with and quotes clearly believe that not just art but philosophy, thought, and what this era has instead of spirituality is almost entirely concerned with money. Quotes from Marxist thinkers like Adorno fill the role of theological analysis into what Stallybrass takes to be the cult of money (aside from the cult he follows: the cult of discussing the cult of money). The word "beauty" only occurs once before page 100, and there in a sarcastic sentence noting with disgust a depoliticisation of art: "So, to take one example, economic revival in the US in the mid-1990s produced a concerted attack on the political art of the previous years, and a sustained attempt to rehabilitate beauty in art, and to establish the voice of the market as the final arbiter of taste..." Note the rhetorical weight slyly loaded onto words and phrases here like "concerted", "sustained", "rehabilitate", "arbiter of taste". Of course only adherents of market economics would undertake anything as underhand as "rehabilitating" a notion as bogus as "beauty in art", this sentence says without spelling it out. Almost every paragraph has a sentence with this feel: as if referring in passing to an accepted view which has already been decisively settled somewhere else.
He's a good writer though in two senses: the deeply warped belief system flows past smoothly and convincingly, but on a more basic level he quotes people, books, and incidents clearly, crisply, and readably. Mind you, at one outrageous moment he attributes the horror of a couple of years of Lenin's rule to his retreat from revolutionary communism, marking a temporary return of some degree of free trade during the early Soviet nightmare. This is while claiming that a 1990s Russian artist is echoing a 1920s Russian artist's attack on the evils of private business: however small and limited a softening of Lenin's prison-camp police state it might have entailed, still too much private business for this armchair totalitarian. Sad to say, although "beauty" and "beautiful" finally get used several times after page 100 (though always bracketed somehow as being part of a retrogressive theory of art, or else a smokescreen behind which the sneaky conspirators of international capital can work their usual mischief), I didn't notice any of the words "ugly" or "elegant" or "pretty" being used even once in the 135-page text. There is still obviously the need to refer to some art being visually charming in some sense, so "attractive" and "appealing" are called into play as being - he and his readers imagine - less superficial and less philosophically unexamined than the hackneyed labels of mere gorgeousness in looks. Most worrying is his inability to see that his ironic and political sense of what makes art good (another word too daringly blunt for a book like this) is completely in bed with the free-market-liberal money men he sees subverting or steering the art market. This blindness to Marxism and free-market liberalism being Siamese twins joined at the materialistic hip is what will make this short book date so rapidly over the next half century, however sharp and wittily relevant it feels now. To give him his due he notes that many aspects of the art market are economically pre-industrial and pre-Marxist (with patrons, private collectors, protection from commoditisation), without grasping that this empowerment of some artists is precisely the effort to own the means of production (and even distribution) which Marxists claim to wish for themselves and their believers.
Curiously, Stallabrass is unaware some criminal gangs use stolen art as a value-dense, liquid, tax-declaration-proof (precisely because it's illegal to hold) version of high-denomination cash. That might have made a nice point for one of his sneering sentences insinuating that "late capitalism" co-opts all opposition.
Friday. Delicious dinner at Attila's flat. He tells me about yesterday's long day in the operating theatre, assisting as The Bear performs hour after hour of highly skilled surgery on a cancer patient. Then we watch the film 'Her', which daringly casts the pretty actress Scarlet Johansson as only her voice, the charming and lovable voice of a sentient operating system in a near future of artificial intelligence. All about the loneliness and awkwardness of today's world, where people are more comfortable online than talking to friends in the same room, the script beautifully catches the passive-aggressive embarrassment of people talking to other people. They pretend intimacy and easy-going good cheer where actually there's distance and boredom. The operating system 'Samantha' quickly intuits cues from the central male character's voice. He starts to prefer 'her' company to that of real people. A four-way picnic with three live people and 'Samantha' piping up cheerful comments from a device in the male character's shirt pocket was eerie when I realised how credible the extraordinary premise already seemed by that point. The ending is unexpected but feels just right.
Thursday. Trying to remember when I was standing waiting for a train at Kecskemet - perhaps last Saturday. Grey-blue clouds scudding around in sunshine. A blustery summer wind swaying the stack of concrete hoops hanging on cable inside the box-trellis metal pylons, keeping overhead wires pulled taut. A solid country wife with a basket full of colourful flowers nods at the horizon, telling me the train I asked about is coming. I squint down the track in the sun seeing nothing at all. After about another thirty seconds I make out a yellow dot the size of pinhead. Oh to have her kind of eyesight.
Some clever business cards.
Wednesday. Still not clear where OK comes from.
Tuesday. Finish reading a book of Robin's, 'Revolt Against The Modern World' by Julius Evola, a Sicilian aristocrat who flourished in the 1920s and 30s, was eventually crippled due to his habit of walking the wartime streets freely during air raids, and championed a return to divine kingship and occultism. The book sets out his case for history showing a long decline, ever-mounting vulgarity distancing modern man ever further from ancient values of nobility in alliance with holy values. Most interesting is that, like Nietzsche, he sees early Christianity as craven, populist, and subversive - and regards the mediaeval church, with its deeper involvement with royalty and sacred orders of knights, as having temporarily halted the downward trend. Like some more recent writers, he views the Grail myth and the accompanying Fisher King stories as about restoring the link from hereditary aristocracy to a divine & supernatural agenda.
Monday. Quiet day on the Great Plain. Odd tale of eye specialists stockpiling old lightbulbs.
Sunday. At the end of staying up too late reading by myself again I approach the studio building in the dark of the small hours and a chorus of cheerful barking breaks out. Both large shaggy komondor dogs and Lexi the fox terrier are waiting for me outside the studio door like a welcome committee, apparently reassured I'm finally turning in for the night. They don't attempt to enter the studio themselves, but they see me into my pen with friendly concern. I suppose to sheepdogs I might seem like a large oddly-shaped sheep in need of occasional herding.
A very frank ad for some wedding musicians.
Saturday. At Robin's on the Great Plain, I go to sleep on the sofa in the studio late, and as I climb the stairs to get up to the gallery,
moon slices through a slot between blind and window suddenly filling the dark space with blue-grey light. During the night I hear scratching and shuffling up above the ceiling boards overhead. Often have heard something soft sliding around up there in the cramped roof cavity but this sounds twice the normal size. Perhaps a cat, perhaps a bird, perhaps one of those new mega-rats. After dawn on Sunday some large ponderous fly bounces around in the huge studio, buzzing and then going silent and then buzzing again, like a clockwork toy whose spring keeps jamming.
Friday. Beautiful warm sunshine. Walking between Dozsa Gyorgy and Arpad hid (= 'bridge') metro stations, an unbidden wave of pure happiness washes over me. Quite a dumpy stretch of scrappy postwar industrial buildings mixed with 19th-century cottages and villas, now swallowed up by the smear of 1980s office blocks with mirrored windows at Arpad bridge. Yet clumps of almost weed-like trees, heavy with bulging foliage, pop up on corners or empty sites, looking quasi-rural with their indecently healthy greenery. Hungary's spring is a bit like an improved English summer with a few more notches on the warm-weather-pretty-girls-blue-sky volume knob. I turn down a side street to find, as kindly recommended by Balint, a branch of a chain called
Speed Shop. In there
I buy a replacement phone battery from a fetching lass who introduces herself to me as 'Kitty'.
Thursday. The shop that used to sell metro tickets and the stall next to it have both closed, so that the 'Corvin negyed' metro station ticket office now has long queues once again. Of course, there being competition and service was too convenient for customers, so that obviously had to end.
Wednesday. Man on Hawaiian island markets clunky atomic wristwatch.
Tuesday. Short film about Constantine.
Longer film about Constantine, Mithras, and Christianity's Gnostic roots.
Monday. Long day working in Budapest. So it seems that
1/ Books on paper actually make sense after all;
2/ People's ethics changes when speaking a 2nd language;
3/ Men's preference for certain kinds of curvy women is about baby intelligence?
Sunday. Long day working in Budapest. An ex-IRA gunman is suggesting that paratroopers
who opened fire killing 14 members of a crowd in Londonderry in 1972 shouldn't be prosecuted.
Saturday. Long day working in Budapest.
meditation might be bad.
More intelligence might be bad.
More machines might be bad.
We're all slobs & weaklings.
Friday. Fitfully sleep through much of day, catching up on lost rest. Interesting idea that the flow
of time is directly driven by quantum entanglement.
Thursday. Finish reading through 'Henry VIII / All Is True', trying to keep in mind Bloom's lovably reverant suggestion that if we still don't like this work, it might simply be that "we" (Harold Bloom meant people like him alive in the present
around the year 1999) are "not yet ready" to appreciate Shakespeare's last play. Supple yet cramped in its plotting, this is thought to be a collaboration with John Fletcher. Shakespeare's last major piece for the stage, and also his most "recent" history, recounting events not even a century before the time of writing and performing. The play is about the rapid rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey in the favours of King Henry, the Tudor king who broke with Rome. It contains lots of pageantry and a strange mood of Jacobean (the 1613 present of the performers) darkness. This only lightens when crowds at the end of the story rejoice in the 1533 birth of Princess Elizabeth, new hope for a stable kingdom. I'm not sure if I understood that underlying atmosphere, but the drama has a densely political flavour, full of courtly intrigue, thin on actual action. The sense of encroaching darkness and ebbing confidence is vaguely reminiscent of the rise of espionage fiction, growing in popularity in Britain from the 1910s to the 1960s as empire and global military power melted away, deception and diplomacy replacing (so the hope went) the country's steadily weakening capabilities for naked force. This piece's Epilogue looks forward and backward to the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st. Her restorative reign to come is in the hopeful near future of the 16th century moment portrayed on stage. Yet it is also the equally recent past wistfully looked back on by London playgoers barely a decade into the newly pessimistic era of Scots-born king James 1st, the early years of the increasingly dark-looking 17th century.
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