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Monday, 4 February 2002

Richard Cooper 2002

Despite many exquisite hours poring over the books, I couldn’t choose just the one quote and ended up with five in all, and quite long ones at that. This isn’t showing off – on the contrary, I’d much rather have had the guts to pick just the one. All the quotes were followed by the URL of the Head of Orpheus website, but otherwise had no distinguishing features, so that any finders of the A4 could go straight to the horse’s mouth.


HOW - CAN - I - MAKE - WORDS - STAY - ON - THE - PAPER? said Kleinzeit very slowly, as if talking to a foreigner.
They'll stay if you don't put them there, said the yellow paper.
How do I do that?
You don't do it, it happens.
How does it happen?
You simply have to find what's there and let it be, said the yellow paper.
Find what's where? said Kleinzeit.
Here, said the yellow paper. Now.

This was left on a bench by the Thames down the road from where I live. It expresses perfectly to me the problem of trying to create something and your lack of control in doing so; you’re not really creating anything, you’re just a channel for the thing that wants to become itself, and the more you struggle to produce something that's “yours” the more agonising the whole process is. This is especially so if the idea that’s talking to you is having a hard time explaining itself, or if you respond to it from the wrong “language base” (see the quote from Pan Lives, below). “Less is more” is another message I get from this passage – something I aspire to but which I’m not very good at in real life.

Regarding the Thames location, I had the idea of buying a football and writing a shorter quote on that and dropping it in the Thames, in an homage to The Medusa Frequency. But having bought the football (a yellow one, even) I grew rather fond of it, and even started worrying about the symbolism of such an act (throwing away my inspiration?). Anyway, my wife pointed out that it would pollute the river, and that if I were to drop something headesque in the Thames it should be a cabbage. I couldn’t find a cabbage in time and anyway decided it was a silly idea, and stuck with Diana’s much simpler (and easier-to-write on) A4.


“The Big Rain”

Blue-black shiningness, bluish-white shining on the puddles on the football pitch in the rainy night all starred with lamps and windows. Always in November there comes such a night, blue-black and shining and wild with rain and wind and brown leaves blowing. In the morning suddenly the plane trees on the far side of the common are bare winter trees.

Windowed shapes of light on the ceiling, Melanie Falsepercy asleep beside me, Luise rising in the shining dawn in the wild and rainy night.

In the dimness and the shadows of the room I breathed the novembery fragrance of Melanie Falsepercy. Uncovering her I ran my hand down the long smoothness of her back to the roundness of her buttocks. High, high over us there thundered aeroplanes into Heathrow, safe arrivals for the moment; rumbling through the rain the District Line trains took their golden windows homeward in the night, unseen faces mortal and alone.

I went down to the kitchen and opened the fridge. There were three cans of beer, most of a salami, a mouldering of old cheeses, half a tub of margarine, half a jar of marmalade, half a pint of milk and the head of Orpheus.

'Loss!' it said. 'That's what she was to me, you know: she was the loss of her even when she was apparently the finding of her, the having of her. And I was the same to her, I was to her the loss of me. We were the two parts of a complementarity of loss, and that being so the loss was already an actuality in our finding of each other. From the moment that I first tasted the honey of Eurydice I tasted also the honey of the loss of her. What am I if not the quintessential, the brute artist? Is not all art a celebration of loss? From the very first moment that beauty appears to us it is passing, passing, not to be held.'

I stuck this one on the fridge door in the staff room at my office. I thought it was one of the most distinctive and yet most accessible of Russ’s pages and therefore a good way of introducing him to the newcomer. The location was appropriate but also chosen because everybody in the company would see it. I hoped it would give them all a chuckle, if nothing else. It also has a wonderfully evocative and sensuous description of that exquisite sort of night where it’s raining outside but you’re warm indoors next to someone delicious. Herman knows he’s not going to be able to keep Melanie forever, and art may be nothing more than a celebration of loss, but the moment of the rain and the night and the buttocks will live forever in his memory.

(an essay from The Moment Under the Moment)

If I say there's a language failure somewhere does that make any sense? Keep in mind my claim that everything is language. Am I saying then that there's an everything failure? Yes, because nothing has a chance of working right when people won't listen to what it says and with a proper action say the right things back. You say to your head, 'We're going to that party tonight and we're going to smile and talk to all those people we don't want to smile and talk to.' Your head says, 'Ache ache ache.' You say to your gall bladder, 'I'm so bitter, life is so hard!' Your gall bladder says, 'If you feel that way about it I'll commemorate it with a stone.' Your heart says, 'I am heavy. I have no ease. You are doing things with only half of me. You are not doing what is close to me. You are following a path without me. I am not in good self. I have no self for what you're doing. You have not gone to the me of the matter. I feel attacked. Maybe I'll attack you.' When your heart says that of course you'll listen, because by then you're probably getting pains down your left arm and let's hope your local emergency ward isn't on strike. Language! Twenty-four hours a day our bodies are talking to us. Now go from the body we live in to the world we live in: trees and buildings, mountains and cinemas and supermarkets and oceans - all of it, complete with sky and weather. All of it, I insist, is talking to us. How could it be otherwise? Ugliness shrieks and gabbles; beauty sings, growls, whispers; the everyness of days bellows like a dying bull; the dead leaves rattle, the madness of nations crouches in its newsprint and chatters its teeth. The stones cry out to be spoken to and we must find a language base from which to respond.

I stuck this on the back of a cubicle door in the gents toilets at work – highly insalubrious I know, but it was guaranteed to be read by lots of blokes who may otherwise hardly read anything except the dull newsprint they have to cut up every day. The media monitoring agency I work for is populated by a number of young people who are doing “something else” in their spare time, whether that be writing, acting, painting, playing sport, studying, or whatever. The “something else” is actually the main thing in their lives, and I sense a fair bit of frustration in the air from time to time as they hear the bellow of that dying bull and lament the amount of time they’re spending not listening to their heart, doing a job just so they can pay the rent, and longing for their big break. I hoped the quote would inspire someone who feels that way to stop wasting their time and devote themselves to whatever it is they should be doing before their heart attacks them.

The idea of finding the appropriate language base to respond to everything also reminds me of something Bob Dylan said about Blowing in the Wind: “The first way to answer these questions in the song is by asking them. But lots of people have to first find the wind.” Like all great artists, both Dylan and Hoban make it sound very easy to “find the wind” or “find the language base” - but that’s because they’re people who’ve found a way to devote themselves to a life of dialogue.


‘Do you know what I am to you?’ said the head of Orpheus. ‘I am the first of your line. I am the first singer, the one who invented the lyre, the one to whom Hermes brought Eurydice and perpetual guilt. I am your progenitor, I am the endlessly voyaging sorrow that is always in you, I am that astonishment from which you write in those brief moments when you can write.’

‘Endlessly voyaging sorrow and astonishment. Yes, I have those from you, I know that. Perpetual guilt, you said.’

‘In the stories they always say I turned around to look at her too soon but that isn’t how it was: I turned away too soon, turned away before I’d ever looked long enough, before I’d ever fully perceived her.’

‘Does anyone ever fully perceive anyone else?’ I said. I began to cry.

‘Cry on my face,’ said the head, ‘maybe my eyes will grow back.’

‘Is there healing in my tears?’

‘I don’t know, I’ll try anything.’

‘Maybe you ought to stop trying. You’re old, you’re blind and rotten, you can’t sing any more. Why don’t you just pack it in?’

‘I haven’t that choice, there’s no way for me to cease to be. I’m manifesting myself to you as a rotting head but there’s no picture for what I am: I am that which sings the world, I am the response that never dies. Fidelity is what’s wanted.’

‘Fidelity. I got my head zapped looking for a novel and here I am listening to homilies from a rotting head.’

‘You don’t know what you’re looking for,’ said the head. ‘Alone and blind and endlessly voyaging I think constantly of fidelity. Fidelity is a matter of perception; nobody is unfaithful to the sea or to mountains or to death: once recognised they fill the heart. In love or terror or in loathing one responds to them with the true self; fidelity is not an act of the will: the soul is compelled by recognitions. Anyone who loves, anyone who perceives the other person fully can only be faithful, can never be unfaithful to the sea and the mountains and the death in that person, so pitiful and heroic is it to be a human being.’
[Edit January 2015: Watch/listen to Russell Hoban read this passage here.]

I dropped this one on a seat in the train that had taken me to Waterloo that morning. It’s simply one of Russ’s most beautiful pieces of writing, and so true, especially the part about the danger of looking away from someone too soon and not giving them a chance. I left it on the train hoping that it might be read by someone in a state of crisis in their love life, and inspire them to make the decision they know deep down they should make. Or perhaps by someone who's lost their faith in something or someone, or themselves even, and needs something to reassure them of the eternal in us.



I left this in the Elephant & Castle underground station – I guess it could have been any station, but I chose it because it’s one of the older ones and very labyrinthine, straight out of Perseus and the Minotaur; you can easily get lost in it. I first of all left the quote on the ground, which was accurate, but I chickened out because it looked too much like rubbish. I was more concerned that someone would moan at me for littering than that it would be swept up and disposed of. Either way I folded it up and put it on a shelf under a payphone.

Kleinzeit and Yellow Paper meet first in the Underground and this is one of the first things he writes on it after he’s lost his job and starts out on his new life. He’s very confused at that stage, as feasibly would anyone else have been who might have picked up my yellow paper that afternoon. But, as the psychiatrist Dr DeVere says in Angelica’s Grotto twenty-five years after Kleinzeit first went down into Underground with his glockenspiel, “Confusion is generally the first step in the process of change.” If so, here’s to confusion...

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