art, clinic, meaning of life, screen, sport, words

Space, Man

Zidane in space
Prozac or prosaic? Heroin. Toilet styles. Five Ways to Quit Smoking. The Girlfriend Experience. Zidane.

 
                   One evening in the lead up to Christmas we saw a loud, mediocre play in the West End. After the show, the bright pavements around Shaftesbury Avenue were jammed with many hundreds of people, as if a catastrophe had chased everyone onto the street. 
 
But it’s just central London at ten thirty with packs of tourists and festive drunks. 
 
We go down to the underground at Piccadilly Circus. Which means we descend into hell. Once upon a time, Charles Holden’s modernist ambulatory ticket hall, with its marble wall panelling and soft deco lights, was maybe a calm, mellow concourse carrying passengers onwards to the trains below. Not any more. At ten forty five the teeming bodies pressing through the ticket barrier are a scene from a TV horror about the end of the world.
 
I walk from the escalator to the train platform ahead of the Annoying Son and his mother (Ex No1). I keep turning to look but we almost lose contact in the crowd. The son’s face bobs briefly into view. He scowls and I feel guilty. But maybe it wasn’t a scowl, perhaps he has things on his mind. 
 
The way the Annoying Son and his mother take the stairs, like a Sunday stroll in the park, means we miss the first train. I say to him, you really didn’t hurry back there. He replies, mum was talking about Prozac. She kept saying Prozac, Prozac.
 
I just remarked, says the mum, that the way you described the play was prosaic. 
 
But why would I ever say prosaic? I’ve never even heard the word. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I can’t imagine ever saying prosaic to my friendship group [the senior arbiters of everything]. Use simple words always,’ he urges – sounding like the Plain English Campaign or a style guide by George Orwell. 
 
I’m torn between defending the deep word fund of the English language and exploring the comedy of muddling prosaic for Prozac. The train carriage is too loud for either discussion. A woman with shredded black tights shrieks at her boyfriend to stand up. He’s drunk and on bended knee pretending to propose. It was a joke. But then all jokes are serious in the end, right?
 
A Prozac Pill

I once edited a writer who had a very bad time on Prozac. This was in the 90s, when the anti-depressant was new and controversial. He said at the time he needed his life to be dulled down a notch, that the streets when out walking were too hectic, bright and accelerated for him to cope. So I guess you could say he wanted a more prosaic life. 

 
However, the Prozac made him feel neither tranquil or pacified but inconsolably grim; and he took up with heroin instead. He said Prozac created suicidal thoughts and the smack helped flush the darkness away. This is what he claimed. The author went missing on heroin for months. But didn’t tell anyone. Well, didn’t tell anyone to begin with. 
 
At a party to celebrate the launch of a book partly written in praise of silence, my troubled author shouted in my ear about his Prozac horror. His eyes were like pinwheels. I was so naive. I wondered why the eyes were doing that, and knowing nothing about pills, or anything really, decided it must be the satanic Prozac. 
 
As I listened to Pinwheel, I glimpsed out the corner of my eye another writer looking over at our gabbing. The watching author had a scraggy beard before the age of the hipster. It wasn’t a very good beard and eventually the author moved to Wales and never came back. 
 
I knew Beard hated Pinwheel. Beard told me earlier in the evening. He said he and Pinwheel once lived in the same squat in Camden Town. It was years before, some kind of commune, and Pinwheel was a nightmare to share with – both non-communal and treacherous. I thought these were strong words. But Beard said, if Pinwheel is so nice, how come he doesn’t even remember living with me? We even shared the same toilet. That’s how self-obsessed the guy is. Don’t publish him!*
 
(Too late; the contract was signed, with a delivery date blinking on the horizon. A date that would slip several times, and not just because of the heroin.) 
 
Later that evening Beard continued to condemn Pinwheel in low tones at a post-party dinner. The meal was held in a private function room above a pub in Soho. (I wonder if the pavements were as crowded in those days and I didn’t notice.) Neither Pinwheel or Beard were actually invited to the meal. But to be fair, Pinwheel didn’t even taste his soup, as he slept through the whole event – first with his chin propped in his chest, snoring gently; then later with his head and arms slumped across the tablecloth. A couple of writers from an art magazine who acted more blokeish than you’d expect from an art magazine, started flicking breadcrumbs across the table, the game being to land the crumbs in Pinwheel’s pony tail.  
 
It was several weeks later I figured out what made Pinwheel fall asleep so dramatically, and how this connected to our visit to the toilet. I needed to extricate myself from his prescription pill story and do some some party circulating. I resorted to the usual line, I said I needed the toilet. Pinwheel said, me too, and followed me downstairs. 
 
He went inside the cubicle next to mine and started making strange noises unrelated to normal toilet activities. There was rustling and a lot of extreme throat and nose clearing, followed by deep theatrical inhalations and some raw coughing. I was clueless. I thought, Pinwheel has a very different toilet regime to mine, and didn’t follow the idea any further.
 
The literary theorist Toril Moi describes psychoanalysis as an attempt to ‘understand the psychic consequences of three universal traumas: the fact that there are others, the fact of sexual difference, and the fact of death.’
 
The ‘fact that there are others’ is my main concern in this piece on space. Be it others with their strange toilet styles, or the many millions, the inescapable crowds of others that shape the reality of cities like London. 
 
The main philosophical task in life, according to The French philosopher Paul Ricœur, is negotiating the divide between you and me. Ricœur was fascinated with chasing down the hidden meanings of existence, to effect a meaningful coming together of the self and ‘an other’. He asserts that this can be achieved through explication: ‘seeking to uncover the meaning of existence through the interpretation of phenomena… [and so] conquer a remoteness.’ In this way Ricœur characterises philosophy as similar to building a bridge – faire un pont – connecting ‘self-meanings’ to ‘other-meanings’. 
 
I wonder how Paul Ricœur might have interpreted the sound of Pinwheel topping up on heroin. Would he have figured it out? My failure to interpret the ways of the other meant I missed something crucial, leaving me incapable of understanding the pinwheel eyes, as well as the extreme public napping. 
 
A Toilet
not actually my toilet
I assume my way in the lavatory is the wrong way anyhow. I rarely stand at urinals as I prefer to sit regardless of what action I have planned. Since the advent of the smart phone my toilet style has only become more pronounced. In periods of social exhaustion, or work fatigue during office hours, a long ride on the seat is a highly agreeable way to pass some me time, although the gonads can go a bit chilly. 
 
I don’t get why most men insist on urinating standing. When my dad had problems with his prostate, he told me he often stood for long spells at the public urinal, waiting in pain. It didn’t occur to him to go park in a cubicle and bide it out in relative comfort. I said next time, maybe sit down, but I could tell by his eyes he wasn’t listening, that he was old, and continuing to live his life the way he always had was a kind of security. (I don’t want to age the same way.) 
 
With all the shorts grown men wear in the summertime, you’d think they’d feel the urine bouncing off the trough, splashing onto their legs, and figure that through the colder months all this waste liquid is actually landing on their trousers. You’d surely want to preserve your clean draws, and over time perhaps think about quitting the piss gulley and taking up with a seat in the stalls. Germaine Greer once warned newbies to the land of roast beef to never rest your face in an Englishman’s lap, as they don’t wash their trousers enough. Germaine didn’t see that it is not just a matter of laundry but a faulty way of the toilet.
 
A lot of men also shake off at the urinal in an extended,  demonstrative performance that risks oversharing, but is also, it seems to me, a threshold excitability, which though culturally and psychosexually of interest, is not something you have time for when you rush in off the street for a pitstop leak. 
Luc Tuymans. Glasses
A few months following his sleep at the book launch dinner, Pinwheel wrote a long piece about his heroin oblivion for a Sunday paper. It was an extended detailed emotional outpouring that made a splash; but was actually merely the compressed version of a much larger confessional piece he’d produced for a men’s monthly magazine. He later made a TV show out of the same subject that aired in the graveyard slot. 
 
We met for coffee to discuss the whereabouts of his book, which was now officially late. Meeting with Pinwheel was nearly always a pleasure, as despite being a leading clever dick of his generation, revered by many as a pop critic legend, he was simple to talk with. Pinwheel always wanted to know what you were thinking, he was not sitting there across the table waiting for you to be still in order to flood the airspace with his brilliant opinions. 
 
At this point Pinwheel was still buzzing off his heroin confessionals. He told me composing this urgent personal piece was the easiest writing he’d ever done. I looked at him and thought, but you told me, and not so long ago, how you detest it when writers turn their private lives into copy. Now what did you just do, you unloaded your addiction all across the media.
 
And so it continues, all these years later look at me and all the others with their personal accounts and blogs. Maybe it’s the smoothest passages to larger subjects. Or it’s all we’ve got. ‘I would not so much obtrude myself on my readers,’ wrote Thoreau, ‘if I knew anyone else as well.’
A doorstop wrapped in fabric
the doorstop as tasteful object
The afternoon after the theatre trip, less than twenty four hours following his advice on the correct use of words, the Annoying Son texted me from the local shops about what gifts he should buy. 
 
It was the final shopping day before Christmas, and it was almost 3pm. He’d left it late, with time and stocks dwindling. I said, you’re like a cartoon bloke leaving it to the last minute. He texted back, I just want to clarify who I’m supposed to be buying presents for. I said, nice word, clarify. Surely with your friends you’d say something simple, like make plain, or clear up? He said, funny. So, who? I replied, there’s your mum, you probably want to get her a gift, and then there’s also me, your dad. 
 
The next hour was spent responding to texts dispatched from various neighbourhood shops, asking would Mum like this, how about one of these, is a whatdyamacalit ok? I’ll send you a picture. The standout text from the series was, shall I get her a door stop? 
 
Does she need a door stop?
 
I don’t think so.
 
Then maybe something else.
 
While the Annoying Son was out there on the street, struggling to make it happen last minute, in the land of the busy roundabouts Silba was just back from the shops, texting me the details of a  vertiginous spell she just had at John Lewis – brought on by looking at too many trivets and table runners in the Dining section. I said it’s like you became a character in a Jonathan Franzen novel, and felt pleased at my literary allusion. But she replied the brain freeze actually made her think of the closing speech from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. (I went and looked it up.)
 
A critique of capitalism, the panic of commodity overload – perilous emotions are never far away during the Christmas orgy. For me, it was also day fifteen of no smoking. As I fielded more texts about shopping, I looked wistfully out at the balcony, where I always used to smoke, and tried to imagine the space recast as a new kind of external platform, one where I might go stand and admire the distant view of the Shard, or gaze at the low grey swab of clouds, one of them unexpectedly fringed with pink. But I still couldn’t re-shape the balcony in my head. It remained fixed as my nicotine hang out. This is going to take time. I just had to be happy I’d already completed all my shopping. 
 
I finally gave up cigarettes when the cardiologist said that smoking plus coronary disease made me ‘a heart attack waiting to happen’. I was shocked at his words for their bluntness (the kind of plain English straight from the Annoying Son’s lexicon), but also relieved. This is what I’d been wanting to hear for a long time. I came home, had one more night of smoking, and then I quit. (I think for ever.)
 
The first night of no smoking, I poured a whiskey and gathered a small heap of chocolates onto the sofa, with a large cushion held against my chest, and proceeded to watch all of series one of The Girlfriend Experience. 
 
The Girlfriend Experience - TV Series PosterThere are thirteen episodes in The Girlfriend Experience (GFE), each lasting around 30 minutes, concerning a young student (Riley Keoughwho becomes a high-end escort to fund her college fees and legal internship. The binge session continued past 3.30am. 
 
Freud began smoking aged twenty four. He started with cigarettes, but soon moved to cigars. He was convinced that tobacco helped him to think straight and that he could control his dependency (he couldn’t, it killed him). Freud also considered any addiction to be merely a substitute for masturbation, ‘the one great habit.’
 
Given that GFE features much beauty and acres of nudity leading to numerous extended explicit sex scenes, and given that my smoking was really always a substitute for masturbation (according to Freud), I was curious to observe that nothing of this order suggested itself to me through the whole thirteen shows; not once as I gobbled up episodes like an over-indulged hog. I was on a compulsive viewing jag, apparently to the exclusion of other possible urges. (A failure to multitask, arguably – I believe that masturbation has been a response for other viewers of GFE. But this isn’t something I’m in a position to discuss.)
 
Ernst Haas, Motion Crosswalk I, New York
Ernst Haas, Motion Crosswalk I, New York
The Girlfriend Experience mainly takes a neutral tone concerning upscale escort work and what it spells for the individual’s psychic wellbeing. Nevertheless, the core part of the job largely occurs in soulless luxury hotel rooms, sparsely furnished service apartments, and tax-efficient downtown condos – ones that are rarely occupied other than for late night infidelities between high thread Egyptian cotton sheets. 
Frank by Luc Tuymans
Tuymans
Such locations do not exude human warmth. There is an emotional disconnectedness in the protagonists’ lives. This is amplified by the cool, detached mood of the show’s design, photography, sound and editing – a blurry, shapeless aesthetic that is more Luc Tuymans or Ernst Hass than an Eggleston or Hockney. The lead character, Christine – or Chelsea, as is her nom de sex – is emotionally chilly and set apart, apparently through choice. And despite a busy work schedule of multiple couplings, is largely disinterested in getting any human closeness into her life.***
 
David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972
Hockney
Christine’s estrangement from others predates her sex work. From the start, she actively discourages acquaintances or lovers from thinking of her as the settling down, monogamous type of individual. 
 
Christine’s primary goal is agency, control, and economic security. However, through the series a slow-burning realisation emerges that sex work is not just Christine’s meal ticket and rent money, but also a kind of vocation.
Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience - TV Series Poster
The Girlfriend Experience does not pander the typical moral scheme you expect from mainstream media, in which a woman exploring alternative sexual experiences outside of love and romance, especially ones involving money, tends to be punished  for acting counter to the dominant culture. Nevertheless, this is an alienated neoliberal world that Christine’s working in, and the intermediaries of commerce, camera, performative sex routines and erotic paraphernalia, do interpose between viewer and story to contribute to a larger mood of alienation.
 
Watching GFE the adjectives for distant stack up – detached, disengaged, disconnected, separate, cut off, unhooked, unyoked, isolated, cool bordering on arctic… remote. The series narrative is gripping, especially through certain episodes, but so immaculately, sublimely alienating, that it’s almost meta-alienation you’re sat watching. Or alienation as metaphor for a broader social estrangement borne out of larger forces – be it economic precariousness, radically changing lifestyles, digital addiction, the huge surge in the numbers of urban singletons and people living alone. It’s like, you can’t pin all this social trouble on sexual ‘deviancy’.
 
Periods of solitariness certainly do hold an appeal – for some at least. You’re never alone with a Strand, but now I’d quit smoking, I was in fact all by myself and watching TV into the early hours about a woman alone who explicitly wants no one in her life. Only later did I reflect upon this doubling up of loneness, and how it is not uncommon that when the Annoying Son’s out and about, when I’m indoors by myself, not off meeting others or away visiting Silba, I tend to pass my single time watching or reading dramas about people living in a solitary fashion. The Girlfriend Experience, Olive Kitteridge, Knausgaard’s doorstops of introversion, Ferrante’s Elena scribbling in turmoil – a lot of lone voices in the head. Maybe it’s just the way the human subject is evolving.
 
Or perhaps there are legacy issues from growing up in a busy family home – a house cluttered with siblings, parents, pets, but also visitors always coming to stay, often without warning and sometimes for months. Next college. Flatshares through the middle youth. Then onwards into the years of long term relationships. There’s not been a lot of space, and then only lately, and merely in small portions. 
 
Solitary in space is a curious state of being, laden with pleasure, but mixed with guilt and some anxiety. But the pre-eminent urge is the desire to luxuriate in the separateness while it lasts – because who knows what comes next? 
 
When I first met Vela (Ex No2) six months after the break-up with Ex No1, in among the excited feelings, anticipating the next chapter about to commence, of lives becoming newly intermeshed, there was also a distant background hum of regret. The day it came to sell up my own place and buy together, as the last boxes left my flat and I headed into round two of long-term coupledom, I heard this nagging refrain: did you really make the most of your time by yourself? Did it end too quickly? Not really, was one answer; and yes, probably, was the second. 
 
Xavi, Barcelona
I see the space and pass. That’s what I do.
Some folk never covet space alone and often baulk, or quake, at the thought of such a thing. But ask the footballer Xavi, at his peak in the heart of the Barcelona midfield, and that’s all he ever really wanted. 
 
Xavi was the key player, the vital component, the pivot pinging passes this way and that. Xavi with his tiki-taka balls was the hub of a club side many consider the best in the history of football. The one thing Xavi craved and depended upon over ninety minutes was space. Not the space where astronauts hang out. But luxury space. The kind that’s mostly hard to find on a football pitch. 
 
Xavi was a compulsive, obsessive space seeker. ‘Think quickly, look for spaces,’ he revealed in an interview from 2009. ‘That’s what I do: look for spaces. All day. I’m always looking. All day, all day. Here? No. There? No. People who haven’t played don’t always realise how hard that is. Space, space, space… I think shit, the defender’s here, play it there. I see the space and pass. That’s what I do.’
 
Football isn’t a sport given to introspection. Players are rarely asked or seldom explain how it is they do what they do so well – what is happening in their heads that enables them to find and open up space, where a second earlier there was none?
 
The forward Thomas Müller is only 27 but has already scored ten times for Germany at the World Cup finals. Keep this up and he’ll break the record. Müller isn’t a Xavi, he floats and ghosts through games. He not a skillsman with preternatural talents that dazzle, not an Iniesta, Messi or Ronaldo. We therefore think he’s not that good really; or just lucky to be there on the spot, once again, right place, poaching goals like a six-yard magpie. 

Thomas Müller, Football Player
Müller the space interpreter
Unsurprisingly, Müller sees his role differently: as an intelligent spirit, or stealth agent slipstreaming through space and time, arriving into the six-yard box, almost unseen, but bang on schedule, scoring another goal; and performing this miraculous trick again and again – because he measures distance and arrival times better than most other humans. ’I’m an interpreter of space,’ says the Munich forward blending humility and pride. 
 
‘Every good, successful player, has a well-developed sense of space and time,’ suggests Müller. So if that’s a good player’s space sense, what’s the sense level for a magical godlike footballer?
 
Zinedine Zidane, Zidane: A 21st Century PortraitOn April 23 2005, Real Madrid played Villarreal at home in the Spanish league. Madrid won the match 2:1. The video artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno installed seventeen cameras around the ground to record the game – including a pair of high-definition contraptions originally developed for the US army. The cameras were synchronised to lock onto Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane from all angles, for the length of the match – to follow the best player on the planet at that time across the turf of Madrid’s vast Santiago Bernabéu stadium. 
 
The multiple-camera footage was subsequently assembled into a ninety-minute film, its duration matching the actual length of the game and featuring a slick alt rock soundtrack from Mogwai. The final cut is called Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, and is an art film about a genius footballer alone in space. 
 
The film’s montage is restless and staccato. With the points of view of the seventeen cameras mixed for tone rather than clarity, Zidane the movie is thoroughly at odds with the conventions of a regular live football transmission, presenting the player largely in isolation, with little sense of how he fits within passages of play and the overall flow of the game. 
 
All that we can see at times is Zidane’s head, or his boot, or his chest in the gleaming all-white Madrid strip. He waits, he stands, he grunts, he jogs a little, he pauses, he looks around, the ball comes to him and mostly he quickly moves it along.
 
Zidane, who retired in 2006 – his infamous last act being to head-butt an opponent in the World Cup final – was a well-built, but surprisingly elegant footballer with amazing ball control. Throughout Zidane the movie, the player’s touch doesn’t falter, regardless of the quality of the passes sent his way. 
 
Zinedine Zidane Scores at Champions League Final May 2002
Zidane scores
In the 2002 Champions League final, Zidane scored the winning goal for Madrid with a sumptuous, technically demanding left foot volley from the edge of the box. Ninety nine out of a hundred players try that and the ball’s going miles over the bar, into the crowd, never to be seen again. Numerous times during his career, Zidane demonstrated supreme technique and footwork, not least his trademark 360 pirouette, dragging the ball here and there as if on a string. But mostly Zidane was an attacking midfielder of minimum fuss, whose larger impact on matches derived from his metronomic short and long passing game determining the direction and pace of his team’s attacking play. 
 
Zidane’s role as an advanced pivot is not captured by Gordon and Parreno’s seventeen cameras. In this sense arguably the film is problematic. Its title is also equivocal, a word salad really. Or a misnomer, as the production merely represents a technical upgrade to German filmmaker Hellmuth Costard’s documentary from 1970, Football As Never Before – in which Costard trained eight 16mm cameras on footballer George Best for an entire league match against Coventry City. 
 
You wonder what a truly 21st century portrait would feel like. Some kind of augmented reality event perhaps, with a camera live-casting from inside Zidane’s head as a virtual reality agent, immersing the audience in the game, sharing the immediate and intimate point of view of the player: space, pass, move, pause, spit, sweat, space, tackle, ball, space. 
 
Then pause again as Zidane disses the ref, who just awarded Villareal a penalty from which they take the lead. Waiting to kick off again, Zidane stands next to the referee and, without making eye contact, mutters slyly out the side of his mouth, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself’. Then he gets back on with the game – dash, leap, spring, pause, sweat, pass, receive, control, space, dribble. 
 
On seventy minutes, with Madrid still a goal down, Zidane collects the ball and advances into the left side of the opponent’s penalty box. He draws two Villareal defenders towards him, waits, and then with close, nimble footwork, moves away. Leaving the blockers for dust, Zidane lifts a delicate looping cross out from a tight angle. The cross clears both centre backs and keeper, as it arcs and floats all the way to the far side of the goal, where Ronaldo arrives to head home the Madrid equaliser. (This is Ronaldo Mark I, the explosive Brazilian striker; not Ronaldo Mark II from Portugal.)
 
The Real players celebrate. But not Zidane. Maybe because Madrid still require a second goal, with no time to waste. Salgado gets this goal four minutes later and the match starts to drift. With the end of the contest in sight, Zizou smiles at Beckham. Shortly after, his usually intense face breaks out at something Roberto Carlos says – Zidane laughs. 
 
Finally it’s the ninetieth minute of the match, Real’s three points are secure, the game is nearly dusted. Nothing remains for Zidane to do, except to become embroiled in a fight with a couple of Villareal players. He’s sent off for brawling. Fade to titles.
 
The purpose of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait seems opaque. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One can open the film up by wondering at its elusiveness. Zidane the movie may well enclose hidden meanings fit for Paul Ricœur’s interpretive style to decipher. (Hopefully Ricœur brought his hermenuetics to the game.) 
 
Is there something dubious in play with Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait? Are Parreno and Gordon opportunist video artists on the make, riding the great man’s coat tails with their power cameras? The film’s restricted view is frustrating, demanding, ostensibly nonsensical, but also dispenses its own rewards. The edit’s deconstruction of a football match presents a rare opportunity to follow one player for the whole game. From time to time most football watchers will try doing this, usually with a favourite player, and always fail. It just isn’t possible to trail one participant with your own eyes – be it watching on TV, or within the immersive atmosphere of a live game at the ground itself. 
 
By forcing this singular view, Parreno and Gordon make the match virtually irrelevant. Gaps and chinks break out in the football facade and baffled queries rise from the disruption. With Zidane shifted to a different context, a more intimate, less familiar football story emerges. Zidane’s balletic control and movement can be simply admired as beautiful in the abstract. His self-possession and emotional economy fills the frame. This varied, quiet, brooding, explosive presence, the impassive cast of his face, becomes a screen to project one’s thoughts and guesses. 
 
Did Gordon and Parreno perhaps intend a study in masculinity? Zidane is for sure a man’s man, an intense, brooding presence on the turf with a career weakness for fighting – Zidane the gladiator in front of 85,000 spectators (and the millions watching on TV screens across the world), the warrior who’d never allow a slight to go unanswered.
 
Gordon and Parreno’s art film is always reverential towards its subject and his workplace. And yet in being distant and sideways, in disconnecting the lead protagonist from the central drama, the inevitably of what we’re watching, this phenomenon called sport, starts to creak a little. Questions you mainly don’t ask as a lifelong fan bubble up – what is it for, this football thing? What a palaver, to kick a ball back and forth, hoping to get it in the opponent’s net and then a group hug. Is football really just a kick in the grass?
 
Twice in my life I’ve taken out a subscription for sport on TV, and excited at the riches unlocked, gorged on bucketloads of football, from many countries and leagues. And after a time, I started to feel unhappy. Who’d have thought plenty could bring you down? 
 
Is sport in fact some evil pill devised to pacify? Many years earlier, much further back in time, supposedly revising for university exams, I frittered away four warms evenings in a row watching hours of golf from America. This is a sport in which I have no interest. I try not to think of golf. But whenever I do, it feels like the end of meaning. 

On the US male golf tour, men in peculiar clothes travel weekly from one set of immaculate fairways, sand traps and greens, to the next set of immaculate fairways, sand traps and greens. They seem stranded in a repeating, high-earning loop of identical emerald courses. They take turns traversing these identical courses, negotiating the same eighteen holes four days running, swinging clubs carried in large bags by manservants in bibs. I concede that it was me not getting my revision done, four nights running – the guilt at putting the degree at risk – that prompted the doubts about the golf; for when futures are being jeopardised, meaning slides over the cliffside. I can appreciate that golf is a skilled and hugely demanding sport. But four nights of swinging golf heads? Golf’s sameness tests the sanity of sport to the point where it buckles.
 
some golf heads
Maybe golf is simply padding filling the gaps between the ad breaks on TV. There is no escaping the repeating nature of sport.  But there will be times when the repetition becomes the most conspicuous feature and you start to question it fundamentally: really, why is this happening; what am I doing watching it, again and again? Where is my life? In this way, the supposedly fun distraction turns in on itself, twisting into a puzzling, uneasy doubt. 
 
‘So many conditions conspire to make life intolerable,’  writes Mark Greif in The Concept of Experience: (The Meaning of Life, Part I). ‘The morbid person knows he was born to die, but even the short time until the end he doesn’t know how to fill. The optimist says we were born for life, and in solitary hours fears he doesn’t live. Looking around at the dumb show, you see events flying past and can’t close on anything solid.’
 
Zidane, the football movie as blank art film, has by now started to proliferate with meanings. Its canted view, its slowness of form, hacks away at the thicket, clearing out room for the viewer to ponder. As Flaubert wrote ‘for anything to become interesting you simply have to look at it for a long time.’ And finally the mind returns again to space as something to wonder but also worry over – specifically the gaping hole I recently discovered at the centre of the world – THE BIG EMPTY SPACE WHERE MY CIGARETTE USED TO BE.
 
William Eggleston, Hotel Bed
William, it was really nothing. Eggleston at the end of his bed
Before departing to Wales, the author known as Beard wrote a thriller based on his squat years. The novel features an anti-hero, a charismatic singer who’s morphs into a sell-out ex leftie as he plots a ruthless, murderous ascent to international pop stardom. Beard had a real life singer in mind, another ex-squatter, ex-comrade, someone who’s embrace of fortune and fame and everything that goes with it, symbolised, he felt, all that had turned punk sour. 
 
** There ought to be more space to speak of the body – its functions and needs. The abject – as theory describes it – the gross and the toilet, but also the mean spirit, the petty mind. In The Silent Woman  Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, the amazing Janet Malcolm tracks down an obscure notebook entry written when Plath was still a college undergraduate, in which the emerging poet celebrates her abject earthiness ‘the illicit sensuous delight I get from picking my nose… [the many] subtle variations of sensation… [the excavated matter stowed away on] the under-surface of a desk or chair where they will harden into organic crusts. How many desks and chairs have I thus secretively befouled since childhood?’ Sometimes people need space simply to be grubby, gritty, grungy, and similar life habits not necessarily beginning with G. But then I think, really, who cares, it’s just my shit.
 
*** In the Girlfriend Experience Christine’s social isolation is thematically germane. However, it is open to question as why so much of contemporary drama, for the screen or on the stage, features small casts with limited friendship groups. Is it simply production economies, trends in writing, or reflects the isolated Western contemporary experience in which new art is being created? Don’t worry, no replies required.

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