Posts from 2nd October 2004

Oct 04

The Bat Tattoo by Russell Hoban

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 225 views

The Bat Tattoo by Russell Hoban

I’m not sure why, but my respect and love for his work is much greater than my memory for him. When I think of my favourite writers, or the best living British writers, he seems not to leap to mind, but he should. I don’t know why he has for so long seemed to produce work of the highest quality and variety, without ever breaking big, in the literary or popular arenas.

Maybe it’s because he’s an odd writer, hard to pin down. His work has elements of the Postmodern, even of magic realism, of fantasy, but you couldn’t sensibly put him in those boxes. The cover of this book has a bewildering array of adjectives thrown at it by critics: weird, angry, playful, surreal (a horribly misused word), sweet – but nothing gives you too much idea of what kind of novel you might be holding – the blurb is hopeless, suggesting divine intervention in the plot, something that is not in the story inside. It’s in fact an eccentric and rather lovely story about romance and art, two people brought together by a fascination with a little bat image in a museum. It’s full of motifs that feel like themes, odd links between the characters even before they start seeing one another – the bat, crash dummies, crucifixion. There is a sense of fate in their relationship, a feeling that they belong together. It’s a charming book, full of precise and fresh imagery and original perspectives. I can’t see it finding an audience beyond Hoban’s fans, but there should be plenty of those, surely?

Poor Richard

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 388 views

Poor Richard

The Camera Always Lies and The Camera Always tells the Truth
Raymond Neilson

Avedon is dead, and I think now, a special kind of photography will go with him – he was the one that played both ends against the middle. The one who did elegant, studio engineered conceits, like Sly Stone laying on glass, or any of the ones that he showed in the New Yorker, with the clean and precise backgrounds, the big klieg lights, the illustrative, elegant black and crisp whiteness. But the usual ones of these are sterile; they are intended to indicate talent, class, devotion to craft and nothing much else. He had devotion to craft, of course, but he also had the devotion to transgression that marked much post 50s discourse. He didn’t want to tell stories. He wanted to be honest.

He showed Candy Darling’s vestigial penis, when Andy refused, he showed an exhausted and depleted Marylin, aside from the tits, the halo of blondeness, the all American madonna/bimbo. He was allowed to tell the truth in studio because everyone assumed that the white walls of the studio were like the white walls of church (and the white walls of the gallery). He also allowed that vernacular, and Avedon subverted verisimilitude and all of those big meaningless words that came when people talked about snapshots and the importance of immediacy. He told the same stories as Shore, but he didn’t need to go anywhere (he did though, he died in the fields of the flyover, trying to figure out Uncommon Places) and he didn’t need to prove anything theoretical using a tourist point and click.

I think I compare Avedon to Shore here, because Avedon and Shore did the same thing, and because I think that it is impossible to avoid narrative in dealing with photography, its intentions from the beginning were immediate documentation of the ordinary world. The tension between what is seen and what is imagined, is sublimated in Shore’s work, is sublimated in the work of all the new topographers, because there intention was exterior, the new topographry was the exurbia and its citizens that was new. Avedon’s old topography was the existentialist desire for interior narratives. He wanted to move inside his subject’s heads, and that I think explains the blankness of form.

I cannot imagine anyone else who is doing something similar, he had no sons. (Irving Penn was his brother, but he’s doing gum on sidewalks, and Bruce Weber’s doing yuppie porn)

Rest in Peace then.