Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Lawrence Weschler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lawrence Weschler. Show all posts

Monday, August 15, 2016

DEBUGGING THE GARDEN



In Everything that Rises: a book of convergences, Lawrence Weschler posits the idea that there are meaningful connections to be found in images from incredibly diverse sources that somehow resemble each other - “uncanny moments of convergence, bizarre associations, eerie rhymes, whispered recollections—sometimes in the weirdest places.”  Some days this sounds interesting to me, other days it just sounds bleedin’ obvious.

 So, for instance, Freddy Alborta’s famous photograph “Che Guevara’s Death,” from 1967:



 looks like Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson” from 1632: 


There’s no denying that the two images do resemble each other, but isn’t it perfectly likely that Alborta had seen “The Anatomy Lesson” and he was reminded of its composition, consciously or subconsciously, as he took the picture?  But even if it didn’t, what exactly does this resemblance mean?  And in what sense is it a “convergence”?  What exactly is coming together?   

Other pictures were certainly taken of that scene with Che, some of them rather less Rembrandt-ish:

That may be a discussion for another time and place, but I did just notice (having known with the images separately for some time) a resemblance, hardly random, and hardly all that surprising, between these two images of Jerry Cornelius (as played by Jon Finch in The Final Programme) and JG Ballard (in Harley Cokliss's 1971 short Crash) walking alongside wrecked cars. 



Both images then reminded me of scenes from Jean Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil.


And then I was reminded of a shot from Derek Jarman’s Jubilee:

Which in turn reminded me of Wim Wenders’ The American Friend

I think you could argue that things here are diverging rather than converging, but that’s OK: free association seems as valid, and as meaningful, as any imagined convergence.  But hold on there.
I’m not sure that Weschler is, or that JG Ballard was, much of a walker, but I do know that Weschler is the author of another book titled, Robert Irwin Getty Garden about the gardens at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.  The book contains transcripts of conversations Weschler and Irwin (the garden’s designer) had on a series of walks through the garden, discussing the philosophical and practical decisions that went into the design.
It is a fabulous garden by any standard – wild and fanciful in some ways, very formal in others.


I don’t think it’s a garden where people do much serious walking, but there is a pretty great (if obviously unwalkable) cactus garden:


I don’t know if JG Ballard would have enjoyed the Getty Garden.  Some evidence suggests he wouldn’t. There’s an interview by Graeme Revell that appears in “Re/Search 8/9: J. G. Ballard,” from 1984, in which he discusses the symmetry of the French garden - JGB: - Which I always find nightmarish for some reason, those formal French gardens. One would think all that intense formality would be the absolute opposite of madness. The gardens were obviously designed to enshrine the most formal, rational and sane society to ever exist during the Age of Reason. Why they should immediately fill me with notions of psychosis, I don't know.
“Have you ever been to Madingley Hall near Cambridge? It's a big Elizabethan mansion, and a couple of years ago some friends took me out there. Behind this large house, which is used for conferences and academic meetings and the like, were notices everywhere requesting silence. We walked into this large, very formal French garden with beautifully crisp hedges, like great green sculptures, everywhere; very severe, rectangular, rectilinear passways - like diagrams - on the ground. Profoundly enclosed, very silent. I nearly went mad....”


As fate would have it, some of us have seen, or at least seen photographs of, JG Ballard’s front garden, images like this one:


Not much formality there and not much wildness either.  I suppose if you live in suburbia you do have to worry just a little about what the neighbours think, however much of a wildman you are in your writing.  You couldn’t have much of a walk in it, obviously.  \

 I wonder if Ballard would have been happier walking here, at the VW Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas.  I think I would.

Friday, February 8, 2013

WALKING AND WANDERING




There’s a great piece in the current New Yorker by Joseph Mitchell titled “Street Life: Becoming Part of the City.”  It’s from a previously unpublished memoir: Mitchell died in 1996.  He’s one of those writers that people have either never heard of, or are absolutely besotted by.  There seems to be no middle ground.  He was a great walker and explorer of the whole of New York, and he writes in this piece: “What I really like to do is walk aimlessly in the city.  I like to walk the streets by day and by night.  It is more than a liking, a simple liking – it is an aberration.”



Mitchell was employed by the New Yorker from 1938 until his death, but in 1965, after the publication of the book Joe Gould’s Secret, he essentially stopped writing, though he continued to go into the office, going out for an hour and a half lunch, during which he presumably did a some walking.  He wouldn’t even let his old work be reprinted until 1992 when he allowed Pantheon to published an anthology in called Up In The Old Hotel.


Here’s another extract, from a piece also titled “Up in the Old Hotel.”
“Every now and then, seeking to rid my thoughts of death and doom, I get up early and go down to Fulton Fish Market. I usually arrive around five-thirty, and take a walk through the two huge open-fronted market sheds, the Old Market and the New Market, whose fronts rest on South Street and whose backs rest on piles in the East River. At that time, a little while before the trading begins, the stands to the sheds are heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast and half a dozen foreign countries. The smoky riverbank dawn, the racket the fishmongers make, the seaweedy smell, and the sight of this plentifulness always give me a feeling of well-being, and sometimes they elate me. I wander among the stands for an hour or so. Then I go into a cheerful market restaurant named Sloppy Louie’s and eat a big, inexpensive, invigorating breakfast ...”

That’s pretty great.  It’s a benign piece, and yet that opening mention of death and doom hangs obligingly over it all.


I was reminded obliquely of Pico Iyer’s introduction to A Wanderer in the Perfect City, a collection of writing by Lawrence Weschler; I always misremember that title and think it’s a walker in the perfect city.  And then sometimes I think it ought to be the perfect walker in the imperfect city. Anyway ...  Iyer writes, “Curiosity is the engine that drives a traveler out into the world, and the true traveler is the one who see (sic) that the world points in two directions. He is fired by his eagerness, his interest in the world, but what it gives back to him in turn is often a strangeness, a confoundingness that is the other half of what we mean by curiosity.”  That’s pretty great too.


Above is the cover of Weschler’s book, that truly amazing photograph is by Helen Levitt.