The artist is alive

The artist is alive

‘To stay alive – a method’ 
Documentary film by Erik Lieshout, Arno Hagers, Reinier van Brummelen
Netherlands, 2016

Some things are so outspoken that any commentary becomes superfluous. Some people too. Suicidal actions even more, they spread an intractable distress like a blast. Here, in the film ‘To stay alive – a method’, the blast expands in slow motion and through a painful serenity. Based on Houellebecq’s essay ‘To stay alive’ (Rester vivant, 1991), revolving on the idea of suffering as the source of poetry, the film is a visualization of the essay in free synthesis. The order of the text is reshuffled, some parts are repeated, the narrations of the four characters interlace with the reading done by Iggy Pop. The narrations are subjective, the reading sounds objective; this is what you should do, because ‘a dead poet does not write’: First, suffering; To articulate; Strike where it counts.

The film focuses on clinical depression plus other sufferings of the psyche, by presenting the life stories that inspired the essay. However, Houellebecq’s text applies to all poets, and artists of course. And we the spectators/readers, we must keep in mind that depression and the rest do not necessarily lead to poetry (mostly not).

Creation is not a cheerful action. As for poets, there is nothing pleasant in not belonging but still having to wear the armor of normality. This applies to those with an institution certificate as much to those who will never be officially diagnosed (with more variations possible, as those that are diagnosed but prefer to live with their condition than abolishing it together with poetry).

“Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.”

“Structure is the sole means of escaping suicide.”

“Emotion abolishes the causal chain.”

“Life has become administrative and medical” says Vincent to his guest, Iggy Pop. Vincent, played by Houellebecq himself, is a sculptor who has had success, now living alone in his parental house. He is busy with an artwork hidden from the eyes of the world; his guest gets to see it, we don’t, and there is no comment made on it. This reference to Balzac’s short story ‘The Unknown Masterpiece‘ (Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu, 1831), links the essay’s text to this basic read for artists. Whether it is a sign of awe or a joke it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Houellebecq’s essay is a passionate text that can well serve people on the verge of burning. It entails a sense of truth that saves lives. This sense of truth is also the reason why his writings are exceptional in the whole meaning of the word. Sometimes they seem incomplete, arrhythmical, shapeless as form, and unpleasant, appalling, unacceptable as point of view. They are indeed the opposite of creative writing products and of political correctness. They are outside of what is expected from an intellectual; not left, not right, and more on the defensive. Perhaps you must have a feel for poetry to appreciate these writings, a kind of hunch that there is something to it behind the words as such. I think that it’s a call to be awake as in front of a work of art; this is the real interactiveness, buttons and effects can not do the trick.

Iggy Pop reads beautifully, his voice coming from equal depth as the words he reads; and yet, with a sense of humor. When sitting together with Michel Houellebecq, they don’t try to keep up appearances of anything successful, or anything at all. To me, this is the only point I recognize the ‘feelgood’ tag of the film, otherwise be prepared to look at the other side. The film is beautiful and there is poetry recited.

P.S. An unedited translation of the essay into English can be read here: TO STAY ALIVE (translation Richard Davis), 1999

The Bukowski party

In the article signed by Sebastian Kort titled “Vrouwen willen seks. Bukowski niet” (women want sex. Bukowski not) published in nrc-next on 4 March, I read about the project in progress of uitgeverij Lebowski (Lebowski publishers #LebowskiBooks): to re-publish all the works of Charles Bukowski. The first three books are about to appear, within March, and for this occasion the publishers are organising a party with chicken and beer, film projections and performances. The author of the article found this rather anti-Bukowski(an), thinking that the poet himself would hate the idea of so many people around him. However, just for displeasing the expectations, the party can very well fit in the spirit, I find.

Breaking the pattern of compulsory book buying whenever travelling, I felt cool about not buying any during my last visit in Athens; the house of my parents has still a lot to offer book-wise. But then again, poetry (just like art) saves lives; I walked in front of it; this edition not new not old either, not  Greek neither in Greek.

“Love is a dog from hell” appeared on the shelf and I had to open it. Page 139: “the meek have inherited… if I suffer at this/ typewriter/ think how I’d feel/ among the lettuce-/ pickers of Salinas?” … eye down the page … “some suicides are never/ recorded.”

I turned, page 193: “melancholia … the history of melancholia/ includes all of us…”

I don’t know if Bukowski hated parties or was sometimes bored of women and sex; he did though hate paid slavery but kept it up for 13 continuous years, while keeping up writing too; there’s your hero and a good reason to party; off to Amsterdam!

P.S.1 The quotes are from the edition “Love is a dog from hell” of 2003 by HarperCollinsPublishers, poems 1974-1977 by Charles Bukowski; a beautiful edition.

P.S.2 It is great that Lebowski publishers undertook such a project, but it will be in Dutch; I always preferred dual language editions, when poetry was somehow difficult; but here, it is clear as the sky(?); saying this made me curious again…

"Assimilated information/ 3" , acrylic on wooden board, 2009
“Assimilated information/ 3”, acrylic on wooden board, 2009