And every other province and land that had self-determination stolen.
“Yeah, I know Frances, it’s awfully ‘precise’ of me. Can we just leave aside that conversation for now and enjoy some shit?” “Ok, Other Frances, we can, but I’m not sure what everyone else will think of you…” “I’m just gonna leave that ellipsis hanging.” “As you like. Your decision.”
On and off for months/years, I’ve been porting the first I dunno how many years of supernaut properly into WordPress. When I gave Moveable Type the boot—and later ecto, opting to work directly in WordPress rather than with a haha ‘blogging client’ (remember when blog software was so crap you needed a blogging client rather than suffer the web browser?) I had all those years of images to deal with, assimilating them, attaching them to post, blahwork. Weeks of blaaahwork. Done. Fucking finished right now. 6312 images are all unified and fuck me if I ever have to change to another blogging platform it’s gonna be a piece of piss compared to this. Or I will throw my arms up and walk the fuck out of the internet for ever.
This is archaeology. The remainder. The images that weren’t attached, had no home, were left to languish in the dim recesses of my server. Jacques Derrida would probably find these telling. Bin Lang girls from Taiwan, I think from an exhibition, or they might have been actual workers in Tainan or Taizhong. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, I think from when I was in Taipei and was told about what Gen was up to—also introduced to the novels of China Miéville. A page from a comic called Dragnet? I think one of those mid- late-’00s types when tranny was a word we could still throw around without the Queer Police putting a fucking * on the end. That “Jesus Loves You” one … fuck knows. Maybe from Emile? Fuck Gender might even be a photo I took at some Queer* event in Berlin. Or Vienna. Dunno. Thought it was cool at the time (maybe, fuck knows, no memory here), enough to photograph, though not enough to blog. Don’t think it’s cool anymore. Lambs. Baaaaaaah! Was from Christmas 2008, with the mob all in Berlin, around the time I photographed a Nativity Scene. This is definitely one of my photos.
Finally I can remove that shitful “sorry things are broken” apology at the bottom of supernaut.
Another year of this, six now, since I decided to just post the covers of the books I was reading, with nothing more said, which then became a quick couple of lines – not a review! merely describing how I came to be reading the book – which then became … so now it’s verging on essays at times. Still not a review! Not a preview either. Somewhere between, usually once the first pages are passed, and also usually before or around the 1/3 mark, so at least I admit I am writing about what I am reading, and not only how I came to it.
This year then, at least 54 books dealt with (wow! one more than last year!), most cover to cover, a small few endured till the last page, and fewer still abandoned. Some still being read. A couple it seems I haven’t mentioned. Oops. Well, they can go onto next year’s list. Besides my semi-regular re-reading of Iain Banks, Charles Stross, Harry Potter (not in the last year for a change), I owe my gluttony to one person alone: Paul at St. George’s Bookshop. Yes, a couple were acquired in Vienna, but to clear, I have yet to find a better english-language bookshop in my Europe travels, and while I may be parochial compared to some people’s haunting of such shops, it’s the best I have been to in the ten countries where I have bookshopped.
It’s surprising that this is already the sixth year I’ve been blogging my reading, and that every year I’m made some sort of effort at encapsulating my reading experience of the previous twelve months. In the last year I found myself somewhat tired with the works coming out on China, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Trans/Queer/Feminism, as well as Skiffy (that’s sci-fi pronounced properly) … my usual reads; turning my attention to Iran and the Caucasus was partly an attempt to regain some enthusiasm – also to veer along reading paths I know less of – as was a notable uptick in reading Fantasy. I am still diligently, unashamedly in love with print, the weight and texture of the paper, the bindings glued or stitched, the cover art – embarrassing or magnificent, the width of the margins, the typography and typefaces, the smell – richest from the gutter when opening the book for the first time, the sound of the spine creaking and pages rustling, the need for a light to read at night. Yes, still spilling food, crumbs, stains of drinks, smudges from dirty fingers, corners folded to mark my place, thrown into bags and taken to the toilet; books are made to be read even by the meanest of hands. And still despising, utterly despising shoddy proofreading, especially in volumes from university presses, not infrequently combining that unique meeting of unremarkable paper stock, Helvetica, mediocre cover art and eye-gouging price.
On to the books then.
But firstly, I’ve been wondering about the purpose of anointing one or two books my Book of the Year, when the idea of such competition in dance makes me queasy, so why would I suffer another art form to this? It may be that this year no one work materialised I think of as sublimely beyond all others; it may be equally that there is a limit to ‘how good’ a book can be, based on whatever qualities and attributes I measure by, and simply the 6 non-fiction and 8 fiction are occupying that region in a way that comparisons of ‘which is better’ become meaningless. There’s definitely some that are ‘pretty good’ and others that are ‘fuck! wow!’ so perhaps I will yet convince myself that one or two are unquantifiably superior and deserve the crown.
Anyway, the books:
I re-read a lot of Skiffy and fantasy this year, mostly Iain M. Banks, then a stack of Terry Pratchett, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s usual ones. Mostly these don’t figure in this anniversary, because then every second year Feersum Endjinn would be my book of the year, so I try and concentrate on new stuff. A lot of fantasy then. This is because a) Iain Banks died, so there’s no impending Culture books in the immediate future; b) Charles Stross only published one new work; c) China Miéville didn’t publish any; and d) my other regular authors also were absent or discarded (William Gibson, Neal Stephenson in the latter camp) combined with vague miasma of boredom with the new ones I did try.
The non-fiction, serious stuff.
Well, Skiffy is often serious, or at least I think the stuff I try and read is. I felt a little disillusioned with my non-fiction reading this year, perhaps having been spoiled by some truly exceptional works in recent years, like … ah just look at my previous anniversaries. I was anticipating stuff of this quality, and found myself often veering too far in both directions: some academic texts were so specific and specialised I could only nod and smile and agree they knew what they were talking about and I was at most a distant observer of the intended audience. Others were populist masquerading as academic, or even convinced they were academic but really lacking in the kind of intellectual rigour I expect from such writing.
But on to the good stuff, because there were some and my upcoming reading is full of even more. A surprising absence of philosophy, which I’ve been thinking of returning to with Michel Serres; some works on China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, but notably less than other years, the same is true of Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Caucasus was new for me though, and Charles King’s The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus was a significantly good introduction for me (and the way Russia lurks behind everything from Europe to Japan makes me think eventually I will have to tangle with that place). Iain Banks – who I re-read a lot of this year – delighted me with drinking and driving (possibly not intersecting sets) in Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram. Jumping into some reading of 20th century classics, bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center an unexpected addition a couple of months ago has been more than useful in thinking about feminism that doesn’t default to narrow Euro-American definitions and exclusions it seems to regularly fall to.
The good ones, the really good ones are three: Ruth Mandel’s Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany introduced me to the Alevi, and subsequently a profoundly more nuanced understanding of Turkish history in Germany, as well as prodding me to observe some of Ramadan this year. It compliments Katherine Pratt Ewing’s Stolen Honor: Stigmatizing Muslim Men in Berlin extremely well and anyone interested in a serious reading on these topics would do well to start with these two. Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (which I have only just finished reading) is similarly a profound work on the history of identity and sexuality in Iran (she also has a work to be published soon on transsexuality in contemporary Iran, which is already on my list), with much that is also very applicable to understanding this in euro-american feminism. The last of the three, Mike Searle’s Colliding Continents: A geological exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Tibet is a return to one of my long loves, geology, and is an excellent monologue on his love of the science, climbing, mountains, and the people who live in these regions. Not coincidently, it was geology and pouring over geological maps of the Karakoram, Pamirs, Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan that was my introduction to these places, and to have a book such as this to enjoy was glorious.
The fiction, equally serious stuff:
I enjoyed a brief return to Terry Pratchett, consuming ten of his Discworld books, some re-reads, some new, in the course of a month or so. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents was one of my favourites, and seems to show that often childrens’ or teenage fiction can be far more apt in describing morality than unending tonnage of ‘serious’ literature. Hannu Rajaniemi had a sequel to The Quantum Thief, much awaited by me: The Fractal Prince. It was pretty good too, but perhaps I should read it again as it’s a little hazy in my head. I decided to embark on the six-volume version of The Water Margin, John and Alan Dent-Young’s translation of Shi Nai’an’s and Luo Guanzhong’s The Broken Seals: Part One of the Marshes of Mount Liang and yes, was not disappointed. This is a classic, not just of Chinese writing, it’s up there with Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and drinking swearing fighting swearing drinking eating … brilliant!
A newcomer, Saladin Ahmed got me with Throne of the Crescent Moon, which I love not just because it’s a massive antidote to the insipid fantasy tropes built on western European monarchy and the age of chivalry; on its own it’s a rollicking tale which should have won the Hugo this year, and I will certainly be buying whatever he publishes next. Charles Stross published a somewhat-sequel to Saturn’s Children, – one of my favourites of his – Neptune’s Brood, which is a Skiffy meditation on interplanetary finance scams owing much to David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years, as well as reminding me of Stross’ earlier work, Iron Sky. It hasn’t had a re-read yet, but it just occurred to me I have a weekend staring at me and not much in my reading pile.
Finally, and finally. Iain M. Banks. Had The Hydrogen Sonata been his last work, his dying would be read into it in some manner as it was in The Quarry, obviously not as literally, but Subliming, departure, ending, loss, what remains after is the story here. Iain’s M. writing, the Skiffy stuff, Culture or non- since the mid-2000s had entered a new period beginning with The Algebraist, then Matter, Surface Detail, and lastly The Hydrogen Sonata, four only but what a foursome. OK, let’s make it five-ish, Transition fits into these also, and The Steep Approach to Garbadale and Stonemouth from his non-M. side I think show this clearly. It’s not simple or fluent for me to write about him, a lot of staring out the window pondering what an influence he has had on me, and this, his last Culture novel. Well, it’s a good one, not the untrammelled raucousness of Excession, but to be honest, the more accessible sci-fi novels are also for me not the most likely to cause introspection and critical thinking on the themes he builds his worlds upon. Against a Dark Background, which I also read this year is a good example of this, also Look to Windward. I’ve read The Hydrogen Sonata twice already and it feels fresh enough that I’ll probably make a third run of it soon.
Somehow I feel fortunate that I can read a book a week, and of those at least a fifth are bloody brilliant. So here’s to the writers, and their publishers and proofreaders and editors and typesetters and designers and artists and agents and friends and families who make it possible for them to write so that I may read.
It’s 春節! Time to eat Jiaozi and other yummy street food (mmm… luobogao!) and sit on a train for 24 hours.
Because I seem to spend so much time in Brussels, and also have lived in several cities which until now have only been tags …
Berlin, Brussels, Zürich, Vienna, Guangzhou, Taipei, Adelaide, Melbourne. Countries also. How does living in Switzerland or Germany differ from the city within which I reside? Or rather, how does it differ here, where I write?
Because there’s no way to make things neat, to allocate everything according to its place; categories, tags, uses, definitions change over time and even from post to post, I decided to stick with the cities I lived in as sub-categories for the Places category. Countries, other cities I have spent time in or have a connection to have remained free-floating.
Another way to regard the issue: these cities should have been categories all along, and by making them so now, I’m merely anticipating the addition of new cities (or places) in which I shall reside.
Anyway, more importantly, it makes it easy to see where I (will) (might) (have) be(en). There, in the sidebar.
A year ago.
A train from Frankfurt lulling me out of the delirium and endurance of 30 hours or more, I can remember out the window seeing ice bergs perhaps this was the Barents sea? Arriving at the vast Hauptbahnhof of a city I wondered if it might be the one, a home. I found a phone. Daniel said, “You won’t be needing that”.
I remember rightly, he said that. Taxi to Moabit where I am staying, more rain. Then walk? I think, back to the Bahnhof and S-Bahn to Hackescher Markt. Through the slowness as I reeled myself in across continents I fell in love with Berlin. One week here, then off to Vienna, circling Europe, till a return here, early August.
I stayed at Schwelle7. I told Bonnie how her telling me of Secret Service had led me to there, led me to someone quite a special one. Across the oceans also this… unknowing, incomprehensible inevitability. I ended here, for the moment because of a few words and thoughts that led me to… Berlin.
One year today. And much to think on. I followed Daniel somewhat also. Here or Brussels. Now a reason to go there also. Gala arrived, left, arrived. Lives. I did ballet this morning, after a night of eating, a vast Chinese banquet, lucky my table is round, it suited the abundance and eating until beyond, far beyond sated. Daniel, Matti and Dasniya, who made my adventures these last couple of months… something I can’t image how I thought I might push through on my own.
I did ballet this morning and in this last month with time for thoughts and Berlin, Berlin causing new thoughts because the old ones have no use in this city, I return to dance, performance, art, thoughts, of which without I have little meaning. I came here for dance. For life. I left dance, for a time, and return.
Adelaide to Sydney, upgraded to business class due to length of leg, and three seats to myself, the opportune westerly blowing us out into the ocean to turn and come at the city, sea cliffs, Bondi, Coogee, looking north to the centre and Newtown. I spent the day with Victoria walking around the harbour at dusk and later Roland, both whom I haven’t seen for years, and not spent time with since Vevey… Breakfast in Newtown with someone I’m very glad I got out of bed early to see.
I’m writing this at midnight, oh yes jetlag and soon to sleep with elephant ankles tingling and warm, a mouth of cotton wool, s tired I can’t recall these recent hours too well.
The plane to Taiwan. China Air and exit row seats… Oh they are now not a favourite airline. A stopover in Taipei, so I did yoga in the departure lounge, a marble floor, humid and sultry, the ripe smell of summer and pollution at night. The cleaning lady said, “Shenti hen hao. Hen bang le!” I tried to remember how to listen and then speak. Oh two years murders a language.
Another agonising 12 hours to Frankfurt, feet want to depart my legs, little potato blimps, and then some hours on the train to Berlin. Five? I’m not sure. I arrived at 1pm.
The train was a relief, i stared and let my brain collapse, thoughts a murky slob, often dozing, quite beyond exhaustion. Fields of unnamed crops, defined by colour, length and size of leaf, some sown so tightly as to be a blue-green mat, others open enough to see dirt between, other fields shot with purple, red, white clutches and streaks of flowers, a herd of lazy cows…
A Smart car burbled on the road near the horizon, a small trundling ladybug that if its brakes were applied too forcefully would flip head over tail until ending to rest in a muddy culvert, would right itself, shake the mess off and continue on its way.
Later the rain finally broke, sending silver drops flickering across the glass, a school of tiny Smart cars skittering up and down in unison on their rearwards journey with the roll of the carriage. I thought here I was at last reaching delirium from a score and ten or more hours of my biology stretched across hemispheres.
Berlin. I go to put €2 into a phone and Daniel says to me, “You won’t be needing that”. Fortuitous and absurdly perfect timing for my start to Berlin. (I think I’m staying in a Gay men’s guest house though. Oh confusion. I thought gay meant, you know… a variety of genitals, oh well, it’s a room and a bed and rather pretty out the window. I shall eat occasionally and sleep here and that will be all.)
I post this the next day, sitting in the café I have found in Rosenthaler Platz. We had lunch here yesterday, it reminds me of Vienna somehow.