Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Hugh Bowden 2004

My first SA4QE... and my first posting to the Kraken, so hello...

A bit of background. I teach half a course on Greek and Roman Myth, and for my half I spend 10 weeks looking at the Orpheus story, from Vergil and Ovid onwards (and indeed back to the Argo and other older things). In putting the course to together I came upon Kleinzeit and The Medusa Frequency, and this reignited my interest in Russ's work which began when I had The Mouse and his Child read to me as a child - I had also read Riddley Walker in the meantime. Researching the course led me to The Head of Orpheus and The Kraken, and I read archived postings there, and learned about SA4QE, which I had by then missed. I also mentioned it to a friend who is a journalist interested in things literary and wise.

On Tuesday the journalist rang and said, 'tomorrow is February 4th'. 'Yes,' I replied, 'and?' 'It's February 4th.' 'Yes.' 'It's Russell Hoban's birthday.' And I decided I ought to add my own tribute. I thought first of finding a site in London from one of the books, but realised that Richard Cooper had done everything so thoroughly last year that I would have to think of something else.

So I took an idea from Hermann Orff, and looked up Orpheus in London in the Electronic Yellow Pages. There were two entries: one was the Orpheus Restaurant & Bar in Savage Gardens, which Hermann Orff (and Richard) had covered. The other was Orpheus Publications Ltd, First Floor, 330 High Holborn. (N.B. native born Londoners pronounce 'Holborn' with the L and R silent.) It seemed to me to be a message.

I went past 330 High Holborn on my way to work. There was no sign of Orpheus Publications Ltd, but opposite it was a branch of Rymans. I went in and bought some yellow A4 paper, photocopier, 80gsm. As I left I noticed in the window a display of personal shredders. Orphic, I thought.

At lunchtime I went back to 330 High Holborn and stuck up the following quotation, chosen because Kleinzeit is the most enlightening commentary on the Orpheus story that I have come across:

Think of the head of Orpheus snuffling in the reeds by the river at night, sniffing out his parts. It's dark, the moon has set. You hear something moving, like a dog hunting in the reeds. You can't see your hand in front of your face, you only hear something moving about close to the ground. You feel the air on your face, you feel with your face the passage of something between you and the river. There is a sighing perhaps, you can't be sure. Someone unseen walks away slowly. He's found his members, said Kleinzeit. He's remembered himself. What is harmony, said Hospital, but a fitting together?
from Kleinzeit


I took a photo of the paper in place (and it was still there 40 minutes later).

There was still no sign of Orpheus Publications. Actually the company's website gives a different address on some of its pages, 138-142 Holborn, so maybe they have moved. It would only be a few yards away, but the address is a level lower.

All of which is a way of saying Hi Hoban, or more properly, Happy Birthday Russ!



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