Divine Mysteries for Kids

If you should waltz over to Hooting Yard, once again, you will see Frank Key doing what we all should have been doing for a long time now – i.e. exploring the fascinating links between a Belgian television programme, ‘ostensibly designed for children’, and the sixteen Revelations Of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.

According to Key (and I bow to his authority on this case) the programme allowed its creator, Gus van der Vim, ‘to express his frankly hysterical response to the First Divine Revelation in the form of a weird, knockabout, psychedelic, baffling, and occasionally creepy children’s television programme, in which pursuit of a hazelnut is the starting point of each show’.

This reminds me (the show as a whole, not the hazelnut) of the Dutch ‘Van’ series, most particularly Van Eel’s Underwater Transportation – a short novel written, again, ‘ostensibly’ for children, which nevertheless contains more than a handful of complex theological ponderings beyond the comprehension of your average adult.

In reference to a now-famous episode in the book, in which Hari achieves semi-spiritual transportation whilst diving for treasure in an Amsterdam canal, Jinpes Terenk has written: ‘it is impossible, surely, to ignore the palpable parallels between this passage and the various episodes in the holy diaries of St Gregor of Samsat’. In fact, the book is swimming in parallels of this kind, as Van Eel, like Gus van der Vim before him, makes absolutely no attempt to pander to his youthful audience.

You may read the rest of Terenk’s review here.

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Tin-Foil Controversy

Waltz over to Hooting Yard for further discussion on the soon-to-become-but-not-yet-quite-tedious baby-swallowing-tin-foil phenomenon (first mentioned by me here – and then again here).

There are, as usual, many sane comments to be found on Frank Key’s page, one of which sensibly draws attention to the fact that it is aluminium, not tin, foil that the majority of hungry babies like to throw down their little throats –  another which confesses that, should such an accident occur, perhaps one would ‘rather consult Hooting Yard, in the hope that Dobson had scribbled some misguided advice about how to deal with the situation… than the vast dusty tomes of obscure European literature’. A fair point, since I have long since established the fact that I have no advice whatsoever to dole out to foil-feasting kiddies. (Should some wise blogger decide to form a society dedicated to furthering understanding of Aluminion Foil Ingestion and All Its Grisly Outcomes – AFIAIGO – I will, however, be happy to join, so long as there’s no subscription fee).

One thing I have established, finally, is the root of this whole problem: i.e. the page at Underneath the Bunker that netted my very first baby-tin-foil searcher. It turns out to have been this page which, whilst it offers absolutely no tangible advice, description or passing  reference to a young tin-foil muncher, nonetheless contains all the words ‘baby swallowed tin foil’ within the same sentence. This is hardly surprising, since the page consists of an excerpt of Yevgeny Nonik’s subtle carnivores: a work with only one sentence (albeit a rather long one).

Arabian Afternoons

DirtySpade Books, the distinctly average brains behind concepts such as Rabelais Remixed, Dickens in Da Hood and, most recently, Twenty-first Century Chekhov, have announced a new collection of stories based on the Arabian Nights. Arabian Afternoons, due in early April, promises ‘the usual roster of established and emerging literary talents engaging with and providing new perspectives on a classic text’.

Though I hate to shoot a bird before it has had a chance to fly, I can almost guarantee that this book will leave the reader with a distinctly bitter taste in their mouth. Granted, DirtySpade do have a strange habit of attracting interesting writers to their projects – Eusen Eöf, Fabio Muzakaki and Jean-Pierre Sertin all contributed to Twenty-first Century Chekhov – but it is hard to dodge the conclusion that these publications of theirs are essentially pointless, except in the sense that they remind us (should we need reminding) of the vast superiority of the texts from which they take their inspiration.

Perhaps the most unpleasant thing about the DirtySpade series of books is their suffocating knowingness. Half of the stories contained therein are slathered in irony. Idiotic winks ooze from between each self-conscious sentence. Some would call it ‘playfulness’ – and perhaps they are right. I’m inclined to call it the worst sort of childishness, reminiscent of the sort of wisecracks written by precocious prepubescent brats. I’m thinking of myself at about age twelve – surely the only period in my life in which I might have been amused by someone re-writing Chekhov’s The Kiss and calling it The Shag.

The full details of Arabian Afternoons have yet to emerge, but one doesn’t need the assistance of a soothsayer to have an idea of what to expect. I’ll be highly surprised if there isn’t a story entitled Scheherazade at the Shopping Mall – or an adaptation of Ali Baba in which the forty thieves work part-time at a gay cabaret. The original stories were, of course, more sexually charged than the slew of child-friendly version have given them credit for. Nevertheless, one can be sure that DirtySpade will have encouraged its contributors to do the near impossible and outdo the gloriously self-indulgent extravagance of the genuine article. To what end, one wonders? A messy one, I may predit.

Another Milk Please

Every now and again the beetle of popular culture scuttles underneath my protective eiderdown and bites me on the big toe. Something in a national newspapers catches my eye and won’t let go. It rings a bell, tugs a lead, pushes a button and tweaks an earlobe. ‘What ho!’ it cries, ‘Look at me! Give me attention! Over here!’ (or words to that effect).

In light of this, I am at present unable to deny knowledge of a certain film awards ceremony which took place a day or so ago, during the course of which crudely carved golden statuettes were passed from one set of hands to another, as part of a bizarre annual ritual which may or not have something to do with Oscar Wilde (not, I think). One of these statuettes, I have reason to believe, was given to an actor going by the name of Sean Penn, on the basis that his performance in a film called Milk was, to all intents and purposes, superior to the performances of other man appearing in various other films. It’s complicated – and I don’t have time to go into it. In any case, this Penn fellow doesn’t interest me in the slightest. No, the thing that caught my eye was the title of the film. Milk.

On further investigation, it turns out that the bell this film-title rang was most certainly not the bell it was hoping (or I was hoping it) to ring. Which is to say that the ‘milk’ to which this film refers is a person and not the celebrated life-enhancing liquid we all know and most of us treasure. More importantly, the film does not have any relation whatsoever to Milk! – the title of an unfinished opera by Keng and Brodsky, the ‘inimitable heroes of the 1960’s Russian light opera scene’. I know, I know: it is a tragedy of woolly mammoth-like proportions. Milk is not Milk! The great Keng and Brodsky (R.I.P) have not arrived in Hollywood. It is sad but it is true.

Still, who’s to say that, a few years down the line, Milk! may not follow in the wake of Milk? Two very different ‘milks’, to be sure – though I struggle to see why the latter should have been made at the expense of the former. The plot of Milk!, after all, is charmingly simple. In the words of Keng and Brodsky fanatic, J-P Sertin: ‘the story is about a man who has no milk, and strives to get some’. And it ends with what, all things considered, promises to be a fine cinematic climax: a monsoon of milk, battering down upon the hitherto hapless hero. Milk, milk everywhere – and all of it quite drinkable. A great closing scene, no?

Of course, we do have to contend with the fact that Milk! was left unfinished. But then, if Adrian der Linger’s word is anything to go by, J-P Sertin has been trying to right that wrong for some while now – although it looks as though he continues to see it as a theatrical, rather than a cinematic venture. A pity, for I could still see it as a film – indeed, I thought I had, only to see that I hadn’t, as indeed I haven’t, at least not outside of the cold dark cinema of my inner mind (the place where popcorn fears to tread).

More on Milk! here (about seven paragraphs in, for those who cannot stomach slow openings). More on plain old Milk elsewhere.

Wheeling Within a Sanitised Epoch

‘The future has got to be with the independents, hasn’t it? They’re the only people taking risks, publishing work that matters. I mean, the big conglomerate houses aren’t interested in the continuation of Literature, or culture, that’s how I see it; they just want to sell trash to people who have become mollified by a culture of quick-fix explications; resulting in a brash insistence to disengage from the obscure, a collective escape towards a vapid, homogenised cultural void where celebrity, with its myriad fads, has become a way of finding validity. We are wheeling within a sanitised epoch that is told to shun anything difficult; anything ‘different’… It’s a sad state of affairs, really’ (Lee Rourke, here)

More on Andorran Twitterings

According to a relation of a friend of the owner of a bar regularly frequented by Oa Aayorta (his favourite tipple? Cachaça, imported from Brazil) the aforementioned ‘twitter’ experiment is simply ‘one of many options’ the Andorran novelist is considering for the release of his third novel (or whatever you want to call it). Apparently, Aayorta is ‘keener than ever’ to show himself ‘on top of modern technology’: a worrying sign, suggesting (to me, at least) that the work in question may never be published, as the writer tries in vain to keep up with the nimble zeitgiest. By the time spring swings around, who can say what forms will have fallen into the fickle arms of fashion? This ‘twitter’ malarkey may be gone and forgotten, to be replaced by some new-fangled beast: ‘sprangle’, perhaps, or ‘wurd’. My advice? Stalk before you pounce.

I ought to add, of course, that other sources have provided information that differs significantly from the above (they say that Aayorta doesn’t drink Cachaça at all, but a bitter Andorran drink called ‘Arsprug’).

More on Oa Aayorta here, here and here 

Fascinating Endurance

‘Georgy’s is a fascinating site’, writes the ever-generous Frank Wilson over at Books Inq. As it turns out, this is not the first time that that particular word (‘fascinating’, not ‘site’) has been used to describe my web activities. Only last week I received a letter from an old university friend, who made the following observation: ‘fascinating to see you still on-line’, a comment which contains, I sense with regret, more than an echo of the insult served up a couple of years ago by my old adversary Aldous Egg. ‘The most fascinating thing about Georgy Riecke,’ wrote Egg, ‘is the fact that he keeps going, regardless of a lack of talent, subject matter and, most obviously, public interest’.

Ignoring the rest, I am at least happy to accept endurance as one of my main critical qualities, which is more than you can say for Mr. Egg, whose current web presence continues to consist of no more than this empty blog. ‘It is better to say nothing than to vomit nonsensical tripe’ might be the man’s reply, to which I retort that ‘it is better to try and write interesting things than to sit around the house all day drinking cheap rum and re-cataloguing one’s glaringly incomplete collection of Italian pornography’.

More on that villain here, here  and, quite possibly, here.