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 Iain Sinclair. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iain Sinclair. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

THE CANAL AND THE CARNAL

The issue before last of the London Review of Books contained a piece by Iain Sinclair, titled “The Last London.”


Iain isn’t happy about the current state of London, which comes as no great surprise: is anybody?  However, even walking alongs the canals of East London can be a source of distress.  He writes,  
        “Between Victoria Park, the first of the parks opened for the people, and Broadway Market, worlds collide. Two young mothers were texting and being yapped at by older kids, while the youngest child circled on her scooter. There’s a gentle slope down to the canal and the scooter picked up momentum, until the child disappeared over the edge, between two narrowboats, straight into the water. Fortunately, a morning cyclist was stepping ashore. He grabbed the child by the hair. All was well. A little further down the canal, where the path goes under a railway bridge, the mad pumping rush of the peloton swooped through – and a guy on one of those very thin-wheeled bikes was nudged into the soup. Right under, gasping and choking, still in the saddle. I helped to pull him out.”


This did sound a bit action-packed for a Sinclair drift, but I didn’t hold Sinclair personally responsible.   However, at least one reader sort of did.  A letter duly appeared in the subsequent issue of the LRB, from Giacinto Palmieri, London E2, who writes:
“Like Iain Sinclair, I too walk on the canal path between Victoria Park and Broadway Market, but in many years of doing so I’ve never seen anybody fall into the canal. Sinclair, on the other hand, reports witnessing two such episodes, apparently within a short interval of time. Correlation doesn’t entail causation, but I can’t help asking whether these incidents might be correlated with the presence of a psychogeographer wandering dreamily in search of evocative connections in the middle of the path.”
Psychogeography, it's always trouble.


      It’s hard to think of canals and east London without also thinking about Lee Rourke’s novel The Canal.  Walking seems to be start of all the troubles in that book. 
I simply awoke one morning and decided, rather than walk to work as normal I’d walk to the canal instead.”
The hero sees and experiences all sorts or horrible things canalside, although admittedly the worst of them happen when he stops walking and sits on a bench where he’s menaced by The Pack Crew, a very bad lot.  They throw somebody’s motor scooter into the water, assault his girlfriend, and also try to kill swans with a bow and arrow.  Yep, canals can be mythical places.



Here in Los Angeles I’m not sure we even have "real" canals.  They exist in Venice, but Venice isn’t really Los Angeles, and the canals aren't really canals.  Here’s something – definitely not a canal, could be an aqueduct, could be a concrete creek – in Culver City, which I thought was worth a picture:


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

THE IRON CUD AND THE SOUR STOOL



 Sometimes a man sits at stool in his house in Hollywood, and reaches out for a book, more or less at random, which he hopes will deliver some walking inspiration.  And so I reached out and picked up my copy of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (To be honest I’m not absolutely sure where one ends and the other begins) and opened it, more or less at random.


My eyes fell immediately on this paragraph:

“One of my proposed companions for the night walk did not escape the word of the pyramid either; was opened to receive the appropriate message.  He got a varicose vein on the male member.”

Leon Kossof
Hard to beat a passage like that.  I closed the book and finished my paperwork.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

WALKING GINGERLY



I’ve been reading an advance copy of Iain Sinclair’s London Overground, an account of a one-day, fourteen hour walk around what’s now widely referred to as the Ginger Like – a circular (or at least more or less joined up) rail network around the middle distance suburbs of Greater  London, places like Rotherhithe, Peckham Rye, West Brompton; all places I’ve been to, but seldom more than once.


Sinclair walks with the engagingly eccentric film maker Andrew Kötting– a man who sounds more fun to read about (or write about) than actually to walking with, but a great character to have in your book.  They enter a “fancy junk shop” in Lavender Hill where Kötting describes Sinclair for the benefit of the shop owner:
“This man’s sources are innumerable.  His erudition is profound.  And truth to tell, a mite tedious.”
Of course it’s Sinclair reporting these words and possibly putting them in Kötting’s mouth; pretty funny either way.


Kötting buys a copy of Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here?.  (Sinclair puts in a question mark, the book itself doesn't). Sinclair flips through and finds the quotation “Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road and how life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.” Sinclair says, “I thought the capitalization or ‘Road’ was a little pretentious.”


I’d say my objection was to “life itself is a journey.”   I’d have thought Bruce could have done better than that.
                                                      *




Friday, October 11, 2013

RAMBLING WITH RIVETTE


So I was doing a word search for “Pynchon+female+flaneurs” y’know, the way you do, and it turned up a movie review on letterboxd.com, by Chuck Williamson discussing Pont de Nord, a 1982 movie directed by Jacques Rivette, which I’d never heard of.  I think it has the least relevant DVD cover I've ever encountered.


Rivette used to be one of my main men: Celine and Julie Go Boating was the movie that drew me in. I never saw the whole twelve hours of his movie Out 1, but I did make it through the 4 hours of the shorter cut Out 1: Specter.  If I’ve cooled slightly on Rivette it may be partly that so few of his films get wide distribution, also frankly there always seemed a bit too much acting going on in his movies; not helped by the fact quite a few of the movies were about people in theater groups.


Anyway, the Williamson review started like this: “Cervantes by way of Thomas Pynchon, Le Pont du Nord is an improvised game of female flâneurs, urban modernity, panoptic surveillance, and apophenia run amok. It recasts Paris as a labyrinthine game board, a liminal space in the throes of renewal whose razed and roughhewn layout houses an intricately patterned maze.”


Intrigued?  Well I was.  I found a few stills online – two women posing around in Paris, one of them instantly recognizable as Bulle Ogier (a Rivette favorite), the other unknown to me: in fact it was Bulle’s daughter Pascale, though they don’t play mother and daughter in the movie. 


A root around on Amazon suggested Pont de Nord was available on DVD in the UK but not in the US, and although I really wanted to see the movie, I thought it was just going to be one those intense passing urges that the internet fosters then erases.  But I thought I’d check on YouTube, maybe find a trailer or some such, and there was the whole thing.  There are, of course, all sorts of reasons to fret about the royalty-free zone that is YouTube, but I am a weak man – I watched it.



It is amazing and wonderful stuff, full of game playing and psychogeography, and really 90 percent of the film has the two female leads Marie (played by Bulle) and Baptiste (played by Pascale) wandering around Paris, usually together; and if you say that the flaneur has to be a solitary figure, well I’d say you’re being a bit harsh.


 With the occasional exception, the Paris seen in the movie is disorientatingly unfamiliar.  The women walk the underpopulated the edgelands of the city, walking through wastelands, past ruins, past things being demolished, along railway lines, up staircases that seem to lead nowhere in particular.   These two singular (and I think you’d have to say rather actressy) women look around them, look for clues, and why deny it, they also look very good.


 They are essentially homeless women, in that Marie has just been released from prison and has nowhere to go, and Baptiste is a sort of street urchin who seems to be suffering from an unspecified mental disorder.  You can’t help noticing that they and their clothes stay remarkably clean despite them having no obvious arrangements for ablutions or laundry, but it’s not really that kind of movie.



There is a sort of thriller plot: you can get away with a lot if you include a thriller plot.  Pierre Clementi is wonderfully, reliably, creepy as the bad criminal boyfriend, and there’s a lot of stuff with a map, actually two maps, of Paris, showing the city as a (thoroughly incomprehensible) game, with different squares representing tomb, prison, pit, auberge, and so on. This inevitably doesn’t add up to as much you’d like, but somehow you never expect it to.

I couldn’t help thinking I’d have been pretty happy if most of the plot and dialogue had been ditched and I could have watched the two women walking around this unfamiliar, transitional Paris, and I’m sure there must be some avant- garde filmmaker out there who’s made a movie much like that.


But what you do get in  Pont de Nord is a sense of danger, the sense that these two women wandering the city are very vulnerable, that no good is likely to come of it, and certainly that the men in the film are unlikely to be any help.  And in the end, things do turn out very badly, though not in the way you’re expecting.   No spoilers from me.


There’s a good deal of discussion in academic circles about the extent to which female flaneurism even exists.  I only follow some of it.  There is an argument, much of it having to do with masculine sexuality and gaze, and the different ways in which men and women relate to the city, which suggests flaneurism in the Beaudelairean sense is a specifically male response to certain crises in 19th century capitalism.  There is also, naturally, a desire for women to reclaim the territory.

         There’s an interesting 2002 essay by Helen Scalway titled “The Contemporary Flaneuse: Exploring strategies for the drifter in a feminine mode.”  It discusses the difficulties, and “negotiations” demanded of a solitary woman walking in London.  She describes an area close to where I used to live: she describes the horrors of the Westway very accurately.

  She also writes of the area in general, “Aggressively fast boy cyclists on the pavements. - and all the stopped people: unemployed youths, claiming space by their demeanor - probably because they have no space anywhere, really; all the homeless, the beggars, the drugged, drunk, deranged, predatory; other victims of care in the community.”

These things have to be negotiated my male walkers as well, but in a different way no doubt.  Scalway also takes an interesting dig at Iain Sinclair, quoting the opening lines of Lights Out for the Territory, familiar enough to many readers  “The notion was to cut a crude V into the sprawl of the city, to vandalise dormant energies by an act of ambulant sign making.”


Yes, there is something unnecessarily “manly” and macho about that wording, isn’t there?  In part I suspect it’s because Sinclair doesn’t want to come across as some, effete middle-class boulevardier, he wants to show how serious he is, a man on a mission, with a special literary project.  In person he doesn’t come over as macho at all.  But sure, I can’t imagine any woman ever putting it quite that way, and Scalway certainly doesn’t. 
Scalway continues, “I think about the manner of my walking. So then how actually, do I walk? It’s a looking for spaces to slip through and round, weaving and threading a path through which opens and closes, darting, dodging and dancing, two-stepping, giving way, persistently returning.
“My passage is not, cannot be, like that of Iain Sinclair’s narrator who freely uses words such as march, stride, slog, swinging out into the main drag, yomp.  The words that come to my mind to describe my movement through the street imply that it's a much more difficult negotiation.”
         I like that, I like that a lot.

Helen Scalway’s website is here: