Too Immersed to be Interpreted

I finally tracked down a copy of Pasolini's Arabian Nights (Il Fiore Delle Mille e Una Notte) yesterday. I started to watch it yesterday evening but found it so extremely exquisite that I couldn't bear finishing it (I suppose I managed to watch a bit more than one third of the film).

Later I found this quote from Pasolini (which I suppose refers to the scene where Haroun al-Rashid and his concubine watch two young people make love):

"The pleasure of someone watching a sexual act recreated -- of which he has personal experience -- consists also in the pain of knowing that at that very moment he is fatally excluded from it. Watching a love scene recreated is thus like looking at something lost which has now returned, something dead which had now come back to life. It is an acknowledgement through reason of something previously only experienced through the body. It is a re-reading with the objective -- but not unmoved -- eyes of the scholar of a text too immense to be interpreted."

(From 'Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Future Life')

Ha. Ha. I initially mis-read the last line of the above as "too immersed to be interpreted."

I suppose this is because it rings true for me. In my case immersion is definitely something to be feared.


Oh fuck. Racing around with my head in the clouds (writing reports 9 months late, booking appointments, flights etc.) I nearly collided with a car and fell off my scooter, scraping my knee and badly bruising and spraining my hand.


Event Horizon

One must try very hard not to feel too trapped within the event, especially if the event's horizon consists solely of looming deadlines and gargantuan 'to-dos'.

At first view the structure of Pasolini's Arabian Nights seems to revolve around his treatment of the Tale of Aziz and Azizah upon which translator Burton remarks:

"The tale is the Arab form of the European 'Patient Griselda' and shows a higher conception of womanly devotion, because Azizah, despite her wearisome weeping, is a girl of high intelligence and Aziz is a vicious zany, weak as water and wilful as wind. The phenomenon (not rare in life) is explained by the couplet:--

I love my love with an S--
Because he is stupid and not intellectual.

"This fond affection of clever women for fools can be explained only by the law of unlikeness which mostly governs sexual unions in physical matters; and its appearance in the story gives novelty and point. Aziz can plead only the violence of his passion which distinguished him as a lover among the mob of men who cannot love anything beyond themselves. And none can pity him for losing a member which he so much abused."

We note that 'Patient Griselda' is the title of the tenth tale told on the tenth day of Boccaccio's Decameron and the central figure in Chaucer's Clerk's Tale (the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales being the other two 'books' explored by Pasolini in his 'Trinity of Life' cycle).



Exactly two weeks from today (God-willing) I should be sitting in a house half-way between India and Afghanistan.

More marvels:

  1. I finally figured out that drinking coffee was the only way to get rid of my headache.

  2. In my German book, 'Der gestiefelte Kater' (Puss in Boots) the Kater informs a thoroughly shocked Hans that "Gebratener Kater schmeckt scheußlich."

  3. Sir Richard Burton's 'Beduin tent' tomb in Mortlake at (I hope one day to take better pictures than these.)

  4. According to online sources 'Urdu' literally means 'War Camp' "and was born and bred in the war camps of the Mughals as soldiers from all over Central Asia converged and tried to make sense of each other... it has been influenced by Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Sansikrit and many other Central Asian languages."



Nina writes and includes this note:

This passage from Proust reminded me of your old project:

"That kind of sleep is called 'sleeping like lead,' and it seems as though one has become, oneself, and remains for a few moments after such a sleep is ended, simply a leaden image. One is no longer a person. How then, lost, does one recover one's own self rather than any other? Why, when one begins again to think, is it not another personality than yesterday's that is incarnate in one? One fails to see what can dictate the choice, or why, among the millions of human beings any one of whom might be, it is on him who one was overnight that unerringly one lays one's hand? What is it that guides us, when there has been an actual interruption -- whether it be that our unconsciousness has been complete or our dreams entirely different from ourselves? There has indeed been death, as when the heart has ceased to beat and a rhythmical friction of the tongue revives us. No doubt the room, even if we have seen it only once before, awakens memories to which other, older memories cling. Or were some memories also asleep in us of which we now become conscious? The resurrection at our awakening -- after that healing attack of mental alienation which is sleep -- must after all be similar to what occurs when we recapture a name, a line, a refrain that we had forgotten. And perhaps the resurrection of the soul after death is to be conceived as a phenomenon of memory."

(from "Saint-Loup at Doncieres" in The Guermantes Way)


I am slow.

Nine months after Block 15 formally ended I'm reading the participant's reports and writing short responses and comments (my own reports). Obviously this should have been done months ago but I've been stubbornly trying to prove one of Block 15's starting premises: namely that certain events increase in significance as they recede into the past. The question of course is whether or not Block 15 actually belonged to that particular species of event. (And whether or not what I am now writing is more meaningful now than it would have been then.)

But sometimes I have fun. For example while reading Thomas Johannsen's paper the following passage jumped out at me demanding attention (Thomas is writing about reflections as 'Quantum Others' seen in the mirror):

"Jalal Toufic has a related story to tell: He once, in a split-second, saw his mirror-image move independently from him (being late, as it were, in turning towards him1). He connects this experience to his version of Lacan's mirror-stage and the concept of 'over-turns'. However making this last connection is slightly problematic because, according to his own vocabulary, 'over-turns' never happen gradually (the mirror image can't be 'too late' in turning because over-turns don't happen in time). The idea that a mirror images shows us a different quantum version of ourselves, split from us by a few fractions of a second, would be consistent with his story.

"The fact that vampires do not have a mirror image would imply, in this light, that they are not prone to exist in multiple universes. Which means as well that vampires don't have the ability to choose. Free will is for humans, not for vampires.

"Fittingly, Jalal mentions at one time that vampires do not experience time as we do. The non-chronological experiences of duration that they live in, he said, could be described by saying that vampires do not experience time, they experience addiction. And addiction is, as Nicola proposed sharply, 'when something defines your behaviour against your own will.'"

1 Forthcoming p. 179.


Thomas's paper also cites the 'it always makes sense' adage of Richard Foreman. (In full: "Understand -- it always makes sense -- if at first it doesn't seem to then wait, and sense will always establish itself.")

The mind is a marvelous thing no?


Faulkner: "Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished."

When is a story not a story?

Life in the Semi-Autonomous Zone

From Dawn:

BANNU, Sept 3: Reinforcements were rushed to the Janikhel village on Tuesday ahead of an impending operation after a local tribe giving protection to four suspected Al Qaeda militants and refused to hand them over to the authorities, a senior government official said.

"We are moving our forces and arms. We are bracing for action. We are not taking this lightly", Secretary Home & Tribal Affairs, NWFP, Javed Iqbal told Dawn in Peshawar after returning from the scene of the siege in the semi-autonomous tribal region.

Eyewitnesses said that a brigade of the army stationed in Miramshah, headquarters of the North Waziristan, as part of the search and hunt operation in the tribal region has been moved to the village along with troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary and police.

The troops were further reinforced on Tuesday and columns of armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and trucks were seen driving to the village and helicopters continued their sorties over the area.

According to official accounts, an FC checkpoint at Rocha had intercepted a pickup carrier on Sunday afternoon with 10 passengers on board for checking and identification. However, two of the passengers managed to jump out and escape to the nearby Janikhel village.

Soon afterwards, an armed group of 35 to 40 Janikhel Wazir tribesmen came to the checkpoint and demanded that the detainees be handed over to them. The authorities suspect that four of the passengers were of Central Asian origin, possibly linked to Al Qaeda.

My copy of Naddaff's Arabesque: Narrative Structure and the Aesthetics of Repetition in the 1001 Nights has arrived.

From the back blurb: "Using the 'Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad' sequence as a paradigm, Naddaff investigates the ways narrative can, in certain circumstances, become non-representational."


(Almost finished writing those reports.)

"O brother... thy story is right strange; were it graven with gravers on the eye -corners, it were a warner to whoso would be warned."

(From the 1st Night: 'The Tale of the Trader and the Jinni')

Notes Concerning The Great Story

  1. Burton in a footnote to his translation of the Nights writes:

    "The 'Kathá Sárit Ságara' (Sea of the Streams of Story), by Somadeva (century xi), is a poetical version of the prose compendium, the 'Vrihat Kathá' (Great Story) by Gunadhya (century vi)."

  2. The net provides a short bio for Somadeva:

    1035 - 1085
    Indian Poet

    "Somadeva was a Kashmiri Brahmin who preserved much of India's ancient folklore in the form of tales in verse. He wrote a monumental work 'Katha-saritsagara' (Ocean of Rivers of Stories) which resembles medieval European fairy tales with magic, demons, vampires and high adventure."

  3. We note that the Kátha Sárit Ságara was translated by Prof. C. H. Tawney in the 19th century and later edited and extenstively annotated by N. M. Penzer in a 10 volume edition published as the 'Ocean of Story'.

  4. There is an (abridged) Penguin edition available, Tales from the Kathasaritsagara translated by one Arshia Sattar.

    From the back blurb of this book:

    An exhilarating anthology of stories, Kathasaritsagara, which literally means the 'Ocean of the Sea of Story', is often described as the motherlode of the world's stories. The stories in this book are retold from ten of the eighteen books of the original Kathasaritsagara. The main narrative, or frame story, deals with the adventures of Naravahanadatta and culminates in his eventual coronation as the king of the sky-dwellers with magical powers. The numerous tales and stories in the book are told by various ministers of Naravahanadatta. The most remarkable feature of the Kathasaritsagara is that unlike other classics of the time, it offers no moral conclusions, no principles to live by and is throughout a celebration of earthly life.

    Thus we have promiscuous married women and clever courtesans; imbecile Brahmins and incompetent kings; and men and women who are cursed and granted boons and experience exciting adventures. Although its dates have not been conclusively established, the Kathasaritsagara is said to have been compiled by a Kashmiri Saivite Brahmin called Somadeva in AD 1070. Legend has it that Somadeva composed the Kathasaritsagara for queen Suryavati, wife of King Anantadeva who ruled Kashmir in the eleventh century.

  5. We also note that the Baital Pachchisi (or Twenty-Five Tales of a Vampire, see our Alamut entry last month is contained in the Kathasaritsagara, and that besides Burton's own translation of 11 of these 25 tales as Vikram and the Vampire, there is an out-of-print Penguin edition The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie attributed to Sivadasa and a new translation by John Platts which has been published in India.


(Reports finished and handed in. Ta da!)

Andrea Paciotto, who has been doing a project on 'indifference' at DasArts (and who I've been working with the last few months as mentor), completed his project today by inviting a number of staff members to his house and 'spoofing' a full confession. Seemingly beside himself with stress, Andrea claimed his entire project was based on a lie, a lie which had now gotten out of hand, for the person who he had lied to had suddenly arrived from Belgrade demanding satisfaction. And if that wasn't bad enough, this person was about to join us. What should he do?

Congratulations to Andrea and his two confederates for producing a convincing dilemma which addresses his interest in such a thought provoking fashion.


Thomas Johannsen sent me a mail pointing out this page which claims that the 'original' Ocean of Story (Kathá Sárit Ságara) was usurped by the Brahmins and altered to reflect Brahmin ideology.

At the Rijksakademie today I visited the studios of Chikado Watanabe, Stani Michiels and Ivan Grubanov.

This evening N. and I attended Isabelle, Stefan, Frank and Dan's production of J. G. Ballard's Concrete Island.


When I saw the cricket bat lying in the trunk of the taxi I was immediately charmed, but thought I should better check...

"Is this yours?" I asked the driver.

"Ja." he said.

Cool! I thought to myself. The taxi driver plays cricket!

Walking to the door I said to N., "He plays cricket."

"I think it was for self-defence." she said.


After picking up the visa I will need we carry on to Scheveningen beach and gorge ourselves on sand, sun and wind.


The Locked Room

In a note concerning demons locked in bottles ('The Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni') Burton writes:

"This alludes to the legend of Sakhr al-Jinni, a famous fiend cast by Solomon Davidson into Lake Tiberias whose storms make it a suitable place. Hence the 'Bottle Imp,' a world-wide fiction of folk-lore: we shall find it in the 'Book of Sinibad,' and I need hardly remind the reader of Le Sage's 'Diable Boiteux,' borrowed from 'El Diablo Cojuelo,' the Spanish novel by Luiz Velez de Guevara."

See too M. R. James' Solomon and the Demons ("Every night when I go to bed, something comes and sucks my right thumb...") from his 'Old Testament Legends' (1913) and The Testament of Solomon translated by F. C. Conybeare from a Greek text produced between the 1st to 3rd centuries A.D.


Retrospect Awareness

A week of public and private anniversaries. Funny how Day 0 of last year's DasArt's block has turned into a day to be remembered... and for something that I was unaware of at the time.


(After watching Jalal Toufic's 'Ashura: This Blood Spilled in My Veins' yesterday evening at the opening of the Contemporary Arab Representations exhibition at Witte de With.)

What does it mean that we and everything around us, that is each and every thing, lies between a here and a there, between this place and that place, between this present and that past (in the case of Ashura, an event which occurred 1322 years ago) -- between this present and that future?

What is the effect of all these memories? All these perceptions?

June 5th 2001: "Who said time heals all wounds?"


I've decided today is going to be an excellent day...


The Garden of Forking Paths

N.'s just arrived in Córdoba and I'm just about to leave for Islamabad. Both of us are planning to be away for about 3 weeks. Everyone else seems to be staying pretty much at home. (Displacement map courtesy of Mr. Lira.)



Aliya's hands

Why is it only in-flight that the body finally realises where it is actually going? (One feels this as a physical change -- the body finally awakening to where the mind has sent it.) For me this happened last night as the plane flew up the Arabian Gulf from Abu Dhabi and passed over Afghanistan. It was dark outside and there were lights twinkling below. On the video screen the map said: Qandahar.




Yes, I'm in the land of Indian cinema and pirate DVD's. Today I started my collection with a classic: Nitin Bose's Deedar (1951) starring Dilip Kumar.



Rock Hard Gym

The film which A. chose to watch this evening coincidently turned out to be based on Robert Louis Stevenson's 'The Suicide Club' (from his New Arabian Nights) and contained a love-death dilemma similar to the Nights story which I'm currently reading: The Second Kalander's Tale.



Identity Workshop



I've been busy researching and collecting Indian films -- but my God, what a mind moggling task! For where does one begin when confronted with such a vast and unknown world? A week ago my knowledge was limited to the offerings of two major directors: Satyajit Ray (especially his Apu Trilogy) and Mrinal Sen. Now I can add at least one other 'art-house' director, Ritwik Ghatak, and a whole slew of early (and mid-) Bollywood greats to my list of recognised names, including: Nitin Bose, K. Asif, Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Ramesh Sippy.

Director Ritwik Ghatak on film making:

"Film is not like any other art," he once wrote. "It is something totally for drudges to be making. When you are engaged in making, there is no scope for the luxury of dreaming. In fact, there is all the chance of making a hash of it, with, on the one hand, the sheer physical strain and the hassle of chasing a whole medley of people with the most diverse dispositions to run, willy nilly, towards the same goal; and on the other hand, the financiers baring their fangs at every point; and on yet another hand, the responsibility of completing the stuff on time. Unlike other arts, there'll be too much to pay if one chooses to get moonstruck and stay agape. There is all likelihood that the film will get entirely mucked up in the process. One has to smuggle one's vision in through this process surreptitiously. How can one do it unless one has a lot of conceit?"



War Carpet

10 years ago, when I last visited this city, I purchased 2 'war carpets', unique prayer carpets knotted by Afghan refugees portraying the struggle between the Mujahiddin, the Afghan freedom fighters, and the Russian invaders. (Think: Rambo III.) Yesterday in the F-6 market I spotted a new 'war carpet,' with a similar motif but this time including the events following September the 11th, 2001. Here the story's charm takes a strange twist -- for what once was appreciated as heroism has now turned patently evil -- resulting in a cultural artifact which verges on pornography.



Visited the National Puppet Theatre in Rawalpindi this afternoon. The state of the 'National' theatre and the chaos which is 'Pindi' came both as a bit of a shock.



An Indian love story in a haunted house. Mahal (1949), the film we watched last night, is fascinating not only because a ghost story in a culture that completely accepts the idea of reincarnation is bound to be different -- especially when it has been filmed in high expressionist style by a German ex-pat cameraman -- it is fascinating because on many counts it might just as easily have been called, 'Last Year in Allahbad.'

Mahal (at 'a better view of Indian cinema').



Revolutionary stomach.



Symmetry in Relations
or The Nature of Eastern Desire

The Tale of Nur-al-Din Ali and his Son

Upon the death of the Wazir, his two sons, Shams al-Din Mohammed (the elder) and Nur al-Din Ali (the younger) are jointly appointed by the Sultan to be his successor...

They lived under the same roof and their word was one; and whenever the Sultan desired to travel they took it by turns to be in attendance on him. It fortuned one night that the Sultan purposed setting out on a journey next morning, and the elder, whose turn it was to accompany him, was sitting conversing with his brother and said to him, "O my brother, it is my wish that we both marry, I and thou, two sisters; and go in to our wives on one and the same night." "Do, O my brother, as thou desirest," the younger replied, "for right is thy recking and surely I will comply with thee in whatso thou sayest." So they agreed upon this and quoth Shams al-Din, "If Allah decree that we marry two damsels and go in to them on the same night, and they shall conceive on their bridenights and bear children to us on the same day, and by Allah's will they wife bear thee a son and my wife bear me a daughter, let us wed them either to other, for they will be cousins." Quoth Nur al-Din, "O my brother, Shams al-Din, what dower wilt thou require from my son for thy daughter?" Quoth Shams al-Din, "I will take three thousand dinars and three pleasure gardens and three farms; and it would not be seemly that the youth make contract for less than this."



Strange (for me) to be here and going to a party put on by Germans.



Restless night. Restless thoughts. Maybe this is why this morning I was irritated, for the first time since my arrival, by the 5. A.M. call to prayer, broadcast from at least half a dozen mosques in the neighborhood and got up and shut all the windows.

A few hours later a street singer, an old woman, walks down the street singing the most beautiful song (I later understand that it is a religious song) pausing under the same windows. Without her noticing I shoot some video from one of the windows and the terrace. Money is sent out to her. She walks away and about half an hour later returns. Upon hearing her again I decide to go out and shoot some more video.

Reviewing the tape later I realise the first shots, shot from above, were by far the best.

August 2002

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