Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Harira soup and a cheese toastie. And a strong coffee

I only managed half a day at work yesterday, and last night I could barely move, and I fell asleep at 8pm on Leonard's bedroom floor. Woke up after ten hours' sleep with the same overwhelming wanness and feeling that my limbs had been taken away and replaced with limp celery, moreover limp celery that hurts in all the joints and some of the muscles, and so I've taken the day off work, been to the bakery and eaten soup for breakfast, and gone to see the GP. She said Probably Viral Arthritis, Will Get Better and wrote me a medical certificate until the end of the week, so I have that option but I would really very much prefer it if I could be better enough to go to work by Friday at least. There is a backlog of tasks to be done there which are not getting any nearer to being finished. I did extract a promise that I would receive twice-daily texted pictorial progress reports on the chief of these tasks which is a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle of that Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, and therefore features a breathtakingly obscene amount of white space, but it's now almost two o'clock and I am still waiting.

The GP said drink a lot, eat something, rest as much as possible and take anti-inflammatories. She had no suggestions about how to be less glum. I am reading John Lanchester's essay in the LRB about the ten years since the financial crisis, and while it's interesting it is also mega depressing. I just finished with another extensive downer of a reading experience, Mark Fisher's last book The Weird and the Eerie. I have read Rachel Cusk's novel Transit twice now. As someone said on social media last week w/r/t an entirely different matter, I don't know whether to feel extremely seen or extremely attacked by this book.  What I need to do is go through the novel chapter by chapter and write down what happens in what order, and maybe also who speaks, when it is that the narrator interjects with her voice and when with her thoughts, and where are the places where the novel suddenly opens up out of its quiet ironic comedy and places you in this roadrunner-esque moment of realising you've just run off the edge of the cliff and you're hanging there in thin air. I 'm interested to see what the structure of the novel is, and having thought about doing this to it I have to do it now. It's not so much to find out what the 'structure' 'is', rather I have a hunch it'll be useful just to get acquainted with it again on a mechanistic or abstract level, simply to step aside from its extremely potent reality-effect.

I did finish off my rose-printed mini-skirt and it is highly pleasing, as long as I don't plan to do anything reckless & foolish in it such as bend over or sit down. Of course it is designed to be short (this is the dressmaking blogosphere cult classic pattern Rachel Comey for Vogue 1247) BUT STILL. Short skirts are one of those items of apparel which I find spin a very definite variety of confidence trick. The charade goes something like Oh yes, this skirt I am wearing definitely is of a shortness that requires of me a radical alteration to my usual way of inhabiting and moving through physical space, but I'm going to pretend business continues entirely as usual so please ignore the bizarre way I reach down to pick up that fork I just dropped on the floor. The aspect of this that interests me is that all the time, and thought, invested in the hand-production of a carefully made garment doesn't appear to have afforded me the opportunity, at any point in that process, to realise that I just don't live in a manner that is compatible with this skirt. It's almost a truism that consumer activities like clothes shopping are often carried out in a reverie or daydream, but it's been many, many years since I sewed in the grip of fantasy (mild and benevolent fantasy, but fantasy just the same) and made myself a garment so unlikely to be worn.

The kitchen smells great because I roasted some tomatoes, garlic, onion, eggplant, carrot and capsicum in the oven. After I get Lenny from school I'll blend it all together with a can of white beans, some celery stock and some fresh herbs, and thus there will be another round of excellent food medicine in the form of soup + cheese toastie.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Tomato, fennel, lentil and rosemary soup

Rottenly cold again today and without wanting to I ended up covering 45km on my bike, most of it dead flat but the south wind blew tiny daggers of ice through whatever pieces of cloth I bandaged myself inside of. At work today I rounded up all the stray scarves and jumpers I have stashed around the building and selected the warmest for immediate deployment. It was still bitingly cold once the sun set, and I had to go from work to Collingwood (the doctor is back) then to another appointment in Carlton then 15km west to where I'm spending the night. Somewhere in there I needed to eat, and I thought it was probably going to have to be a stodgy vegie burger in a pub or something equally indigestible somewhere equally uncongenial, so I almost wept with relief when the Tin Pot cafe was open, quiet, dark, and able to provide me with a gently crackling open fire and a steaming bowl of the most perfectly nourishing, tangy, fragrant soup. Soup helps most things, helps quite a lot actually.

A little while ago I wrote about a dredged up-memory, from my first or second year at university, of feeling completely bewildered by the seemingly effortless cleanliness and polish of men and women on the Collins Street tram in their navy and black business attire. What I didn't describe was how I used to clothe myself. I think it's relevant. My hands were always grimy from charcoal and I wore an assortment of old black evening dresses from the op-shop, white patent leather boots, old man cardigans, and when it was as cold as it has been today I had this patchwork knitted blanket that I would roll around myself like a towel - tucked up under my arms, the bottom edge just trailed on the ground - and over that I wore a brown leather belt with a brass buckle. This was all perfectly fine and unremarkable in North Fitzroy and also in the studio. Those several blocks in between where it wasn't were usually traversed in just a few minutes. Well, anyhow, I wished for that blanket today. I could remember the nice wooly smell it had and I could feel how good it was at making me feel like I had not gotten out of my bed, which I suppose I hadn't really. (My bed at that point was a single mattress on the floor of the worst room in a very bad double-storey terrace, although that room did indeed have an open fireplace, which I used, and right now that seems the absolute height of luxury and pleasure, to go sleep in a room with an open fire.)

I did want to have a go at writing some more about Stanley Cavell, but it's not going to happen, not in this month or year, anyhow. What did happen is this: I remembered that the only substantial piece of work I managed to parlay Cavell into was a co-authored essay on film and television versions of Pride and Prejudice, and I reread some of this and felt unspeakably depressed about it all on numbers of levels - the essay itself, which doesn't work, the circumstances under which it was written and the decline of my relationship with the other author, and the subject matter of the essay and the views expressed in it - and I just don't have the resources to revisit any of that material. Well, here's that essay anyhow. Rain and wind is forecast for tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

it's cold

A1 Bakery, my favourite place

Over the last few weeks my social media streams have presented me with photographs of J and her family in Germany and France, S in the USA, G's trip to Japan, S's trip to Korea then Sweden, J's epic drive from Townsville to Katherine, and most of all V and her clan in England and then Italy.

At any time in the recent past I could have used a bit of foresight and organised myself a trip somewhere warm, but I did not and so I have spent this midwinter weekend trying to stay out of the wind, trying to catch the little glimmers of sun afforded to us this far south, and generally making the best of it as far as possible. Which really isn't very far.

Yesterday Lenny and I went to the park and played handball, then we walked up the hill and at the top we lay down to look at the clouds. What we lay on was damp, cold gravel. It was a little like going to the beach in England. I am aware what a worn-out cliche that is, to ridicule English beaches, but honestly, they are every bit as horrifically tragic, every bit as laugh-till-you-cry, as they're made out to be and thus it was lying on the cold gravelly hilltop.

Leonard's idea of a great photo of his mum
Nevertheless, I did feel the sun warming the bare skin on my face and arms and I did know again for a few minutes what it's like to be warmed by the sun. Today, I'm not sure how I'll hang on until November, to be honest. I am so tired of being frozen and chilled. I want to walk the streets at night and feel air on my skin that's the same temperature as my blood. I went to the pool and used the sauna today but it's not the same thing at all.

A change of scene has been achieved, at least, via a friend who has allowed me a couple of nights' use of a house and cat that would otherwise have lain empty (the house, not the cat, my goodness what are you thinking? stop it). I did not plan to ride the whole way here but because there were replacement buses on the train line today I had to, and I could feel my body really not liking the whole experience. The lower back once or twice did weird sensations that more or less said Easy Tiger, and my shoulders and knees felt like they needed oiling. Altogether, plenty of messages to tell me to go easy on my body for a while and I will do exactly that until I feel a little less ground down. 
Western suburbs bike path - felt as remote and lonely as The Orkneys

So as I cannot go to Italy in person I thought I would sew myself a compensatory highly Italian garment. I got up early today and cut and sewed a miniskirt from rose-printed silk gazar, and I underlined it in silk satin and Hong Kong bound all the seams and allowances in the same way I've seen it done inside Prada and Marni garments. This is my favourite kind of sewing. I haven't quite been able to finish it because I sewed on a trouser bar to close the waistband and I sewed it on backwards, and I don't have an unpicker with me.

Just ignore this if you don't sew

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Stanley Cavell

This morning I received a message, from an old friend on the other side of the world, saying that he'd just found out that the philosopher Stanley Cavell has died, a fortnight ago. My friend noted that a shared interest in Cavell's work had been the original spark of our friendship and that remembering this, and reminding me of it, was a way of remembering and commemorating Cavell himself. We talked about Cavell for a while, intermittently, and in between episodes of doing my paid work I found and read some obituaries. And then in turn, I also contacted some friends and acquaintances with whom I'd discovered a shared appreciation of Cavell - in one instance the conversation establishing this had taken place probably ten years ago, but I didn't forget it, and ever since I have held that individual in a very particular esteem. None of the people I got in touch with knew of Cavell's death. So my day has had this strange element to it - work work work on one hand, on the other, these messaged conversations with people spread across the world, acknowledging connections and encounters threaded through lives, making fumbled beginnings at saying why Cavell's work mattered and what it has meant to us.

Stanley Cavell was 91. He did attract a cult following. My relationship with his work has always included elements of fandom: the nature of his lifelong explorations in thinking his way to big questions via idiosyncratically personal affinities, often with works of art, have made it difficult for me to want to separate the man, and his exquisite mind and sensibility, from his philosophical preoccupations and convictions. As the three authors of this reflection on his legacy observe:
many of Cavell's most enthusiastic readers have found his unique range of interests so absorbing that they simply adopt them as their own. Yet his goal was for his reader to notice the things they themselves found interesting and and then to take them up and think about and through them. He saw this taking up as our duty, as human beings and citizens of whatever imperfect state we happen to call home.
I met Stanley Cavell in 2004, at a literature and film conference in Tallahassee. I had been deeply engaged with his books The World Viewed and Must We Mean What We Say? for several years at that stage. He was the senior keynote at the conference and I was a novice, new and foreign to that culture and that scene. He was the chief reason I had travelled to the US. I was lucky to meet him and he was very courteous to me. I happened to be the only Australian, and somebody drew my loneness to the attention of Toril Moi, who was the other luminary at the event and who took me up as her protege. She said something along the lines of, You can't spend your life in Australia working away alone on Stanley and come all this way without properly meeting him, and so she introduced me to him and I sat with him and his friends and colleagues at lunch one day and listened to the conversation around the table.

This sense of Cavell as a real and ordinary person, in particular as a person whose actual voice I knew the sound of, helped me to survive the encounters with the full, rich, demanding force of the voice in his writings which followed immediately after that trip: In Quest of the Ordinary, Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow, Contesting Tears, and especially Pursuits of Happiness. That latter book is about human connection and knowing other people, and it works its way to articulating how that connection and knowledge is achieved and why it matters via reading and thinking about a half-dozen highly verbal Hollywood comedies of the thirties and forties. One of the fundamental and irreducible beauties of this book is its insistence on, and commitment to, the undertaking that a philosophical interest in works of art (i.e., an interest in what works of art say about how to live) needs to do more than submit the art to the secondary role of illustrating the superior wisdom of philosophy. Art is thought and it is experience - it is not a picture of these things. Nor is it subordinate to criticism. When I've written and thought about art, I've tried to live up to these ideas, at least I hope I have. For various reasons connected with what I noted above about his appeal for readers Cavell resists quotation, but here is a fragment from Pursuits of Happiness related to the ideas I've just described:
My juxtaposition of Kant and Capra is meant to suggest that you cannot know the answer to the question of worthwhileness in advance of your own experience, not the worthwhileness of Capra and not that of Kant...I am not, in the case of Capra, simply counting on our capacity for bringing our wild intelligence to bear on just about anything, say our capacities for exploring or improvisation. What we are to see is the intelligence that a film has already brought to bear in its making; and hence perhaps we will think about what improvisation is and about what performance is. (10)
A little further on, the epically Cavellian statement, half aphorism, half intransigently convoluted, of how to think through an interest, a connection, with an object, be that object a person or a work of art:
I indicated a moment ago...that philosophy requires the sense of the title of all that is great and important to be given up to experience. If one may think of this as an overcoming of philosophical theory, I should like to stress that the way to overcome theory correctly, philosophically, is to let the object or work of your interest teach you how to consider it. I would not object to calling this a piece of theoretical advice, as long as it is also called a piece of practical advice. Philosophers will naturally assume that it it one thing, and quite clear how, to let a philosophical work teach you how to consider it, and another thing, and quite obscure how or why, to let a film teach you this. I beleive these are not such different things.
With what is left to me of this evening I am now going to drink a quiet glass of wine in memory and appreciation of Stanley Cavell. I will try to write a bit more about him tomorrow.