June 26: coriolanus and macbeth; on the ridge between understanding and confusion

Coriolanus as a piece of writing feels very close to Macbeth. They were probably written within a year or so of each other; 1606; 1607; 1608? Not only are they both bound by blood, but in both there is an almost glutinous concentration of language. The words stick to each other; refuse to disadhere; as though there was a desire to arrive at inarticulacy; an impatience with exactitude and pernickitiness.

Screw your courage to the sticking place” says Lady Macbeth. Sticking place does mean something, though there is dispute about exactly what (a viol’s strings? a crossbow cord?) but Shakespeare chooses these words because it has the feel of language being battered, bludgeoned into existence. He is jamming stuff together,purposefully making it hard for us to disentangle the skein.

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well

It were done quickly. If th’assassination

Could trammel up the consequence and catch

With his surcease success.” (Macbeth 1 vii)


In a rebellion,

When what’s not meet but what must be was law,

Then were they chosen. In a better hour

Let what is meet be said it must be meet

And throw their power i’ th’ dust.     (Coriolanus 3 i)

This is like Beethoven’s Great Fugue. Living on the edge of our ability to contain it. Key words colliding and ricocheting back into focus. Just about organised but pretty close to disorganised. That position on the ridge between understanding and confusion. The place where words are most thrilling.


June 25: softeners or as I call them infuriators

My friend Emma tells me that they use the word softener for that supposedly clever thing when someone puts out a negative message but starts with a positive softener. As in: Esmerelda is certainly a bright student but she has difficulties engaging with her work or Thank you very much for your response which was very useful in many ways though I was hoping you might have given me the information I was actually asking for or BigUsuryCorporation is pleased to report that we aim to create five hundred jobs in the South East of England (or The Home Counties because only the South East if home). There will also be the creation of a more flexible work force environment in the North of the country.

Anyway, I heard a good one the other day as I was pulling into Clapham Junction on the train: We are now arriving in Clapham Junction. An excellent service is running on all underground lines (there are no underground stations at Clapham Junction), as well as on the Docklands Light Railway (which is five miles away in East London). At present due to signal failures there are delays of 45 minutes on trains running to East Croydon (they do run from Clapham Junction).

When someone starts up with their softener now I just go yeah yeah yeah and make a turning motion with my hands as if to say can we cut to the chase please. My aim is to reverse the softener. Make it into a hardener, as in Esmeralda is a rubbish student who hasn’t done a stroke of work all year. she did get me a nice present though.


June 22: cultural misapprehensions

I read how the Brazilian fans in the crowd at the match between England and Italy were unhappy with English fans for not joining in with the Mexican wave. The English position, as propagated and engendered by the media, is that we are serious football fans focused on the match and so are loath to engage with a Mexican wave. The view of most other nations, also serious football lovers, is that the Mexican wave is part of the event and should be respected. The game is a cultural event and not just a result, especially at a World Cup.

The French call the English ‘hypocrites’ when anglo-saxons avoid confrontation by, say, not complaining in a restaurant. I think it is a different use of the word from the English understanding. We see the avoidance of confrontation as diplomatic, rather suave and civilized. For many other nations it can be spineless and pathetic. My sympathies are in both camps. Sometimes the creation of conflict over a nothing makes no sense, but it can also be a lack of engagement in the moment, the refusal to have a stake in things.


June 22: context is everything; the old trap

Last night I watched Germany playing in the World Cup in a German bar. They drew. I supported them. Supporting them – normally when they play England I am against them – but supporting them this time, they looked a bit rubbish. Maybe it is my support that makes teams look rubbish.

In Oxford the other day I was spirited back to when I was an undergraduate there and how ill-at-ease I sometimes felt in the presence of that upper middle class English drawl. Again I felt unable to cope with it. And yet in London now I cope well enough with the upper middle class.

I remember sitting in as a student on a trial Maths class for a trialing teacher some years back. When the poor guy started up with his x and his y and his axes and stuff like that my mind immediately and faultlessly wandered off to another place, as it had done when I was a boy at school trying to learn Maths for real.

A context is reconstructed or reappropriated and we are easily sunk again. Back in the old trap.


June 22: leisure is work

Work as leisure and leisure as work. Today is the first day of the second half of that handy maxim which keeps my house in order. The structured part of my year ends and an empty zone of ten weks begins. This is holiday; a painful time of year; an April with its cruel roots. Every morning I wake up to a desert.

Today I aim to slice the period up into units of work: bits of writing; bits of reading; bits of travel; bits of money-making if that becomes necessary. Making leisure into work. Does that make me a masochist? But no because, remember, I also have the competence of making work into leisure.