On ‘Seeing and Noticing’: William S. Burroughs, The Beat Hotel and ‘Taking The Colour Walk’ Through The Streets of Paris

By Marcus D. Niski

In a dilapidated hotel famously dubbed The Beat Hotel by its colourfully eccentric inhabitants, a coalescence of some of the Beat generation’s most important protagonists came together under one roof to push forward the frontiers of literature, painting and psychic awareness.

In an extraordinary outburst of creative energy, Gregory Corso wrote some of his most important poetry there, Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville devised The Dreamachine , Allen Ginsberg worked on Kaddish (dwelling in Room 25), Burroughs and Gysin experimented with the ‘cut-ups’ and Sinclair Beiles – amongst many others who came and went –  co-authored Minutes to Go with Burroughs and Gysin amidst a burlesque carnival of creative chaos.

Always seeking new paths of creative inspiration, Burroughs also devised a fascinating observational technique known as ‘taking the colour walk’:

“I was taking a colour walk around Paris the other day … I was walking down the boulevard when I suddenly felt this cool wind on a warm day, and when I looked out I was seeing all the blues in the street in front of me… blue on a foulard…a girls’ blue sweater…blue neon…the blue sky …all the blues. When I looked again, I saw nothing but all the reds…of traffic lights…car lights…a café sign…a man’s nose…”

Excerpt from The Beat Hotel, Barry Miles, Atlantic Books, London, 2000, p 157.

Located at 9, rue Git-le-Coeur and curated under Madame Rachou’s ever watchful eye (circa 1957-1963), The Beat Hotel was undoubtedly one of the great oasis’ of Parisian creativity at that time. Indeed, in this extraordinary interview below, Sinclair Beiles recalls some of the legendary ‘eccentricities’, excesses and antics that took place amidst the dilapidated digs of  The Beat Hotel –

More biographical information about Sinclair Beiles – one of the Beat generation’s most neglected, if not tragically overlooked protagonists – can also be found at:

http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/beat/sinclair-beiles-a-man-apart/

 

 – Marcus D. Niski, September 2017

 

 

“You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless…”

Georges Perec in Species of Space and Other Pieces

Virginia Woolf: A ‘Street Haunting’

Have you ever walked along a street and imagined the lives of the strangers that you pass?

In Virginia Woolf’s 1927 essay ‘Street Haunting’, the narrator explores this imaginative act of dipping in and out of people’s minds as they move through the city’s wintry, twilight streets. From prime ministers to the homeless, the narrator examines the city’s inhabitants and the spaces they occupy. ‘What greater delight and wonder can there be than to leave the straight lines of personality’, the narrator asks, to feel ‘that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others’.

Source: The British Library, 20th Century Literature Collection Items as found at: http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/street-haunting-an-essay-by-virginia-woolf

Writing About Place and Space

By Marcus D. Niski

One of the things that I have long been captivated by are the elements of place and space. How we ‘see’ the world around us, and how we ‘react’ to it. The pictures we create in our minds that surround our daily lives and how we interpret them. How we react to ‘mundane things’, ‘objects’ and ‘occurrences’ that shape our reality.

My thesis has long been that the increasing pace of our society puts us less in touch with the simple mundane things that are so present in our everyday reality (or should be!). Our media, entertainment, and lives in general have been ‘dumbed down’ to accommodate such rapid exponential change.

Some of the greatest writers – in my opinion – are those who are able to ‘slow us down’ to really focus in on what most people miss: detail through studied observation.

Observation is a skill that can and must be practiced in good literary writing (and in life in general): William S. Burroughs argued that the trade skills of the writer are very similar in fact to the trade skills of the detective or the spy. I think there is a very strong analogy here between the two skill sets.

– Marcus D. Niski,  September 2017

On Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

By Marcus D. Niski

My love of keeping writer’s notebooks as both a practical endeavour and aesthetic pursuit features heavily here, as does a range of information and insights as to how to get started with keeping your writer’s notebooks and how to maintain the habit as a regular ritual.

Our writing heroes and icons shape our thinking and provide a wellspring of imagination, insight and motivation. In celebrating them, we continue to push forward with our own insights as well as attempt to spur ourselves on towards new heights of discovery.

The pursuit of ‘writing for writing’s’ sake’ – most particularly in my notebooks – has provided me a lifetime of pleasure in absorbing and reflecting upon the world around me. I hope this site will inspire you and similarly urge you to explore the maximum depth of your creativity in whatever field of writing that you engage in.

– Marcus D. Niski,  September 2017

Ruin — Liminal Narratives

Ruins pose a constant negotiation between glory and dissolution; success and failure; substance and nothingness. They ’embody a set of temporal and historical paradoxes’ (Dillon, p.11). The abandoned warehouse or the tumbledown barn reveal a memory of the past and simultaneously a projection of our own futures. In the medieval motif of The four living […]

via Ruin — Liminal Narratives

… In the streets of Paris, Benjamin earned a living as a journalist while hunting out concrete examples on which to field test and then synthesize cutting-edge social theories. Encouraged by fellow German expatriate author Franz Hessel, he learned how to wander Paris with a voyeuristic curiosity modeled on that of the flaneur — a detached, attentive spectator who believed in the “religious intoxication of great cities” — who passed through every line of Charles Baudelaire’s poetry, especially the groundbreaking volume Les Fleurs du Mal (1857).

– Tim Keane in ‘Walter Benjamin on How to Stop Worrying and Love Late Capitalism’ as found at: https://hyperallergic.com/390574/the-arcades-contemporary-art-and-walter-benjamin-the-jewish-museum-2017/  (July 15, 2017) accessed 19 September 2017 also published at: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/118955609/posts/390574

 

Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out. Force yourself to see more flatly.

George Perec in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

A related technique that Benjamin does not only describe but also employs is montage. Here, the idea is that by juxtaposing unlike things, a text and photographs for example, barriers between conventions are broken down, leading to a larger diffusion of categories and taxonomies. Often this effect can be achieved even without the use of different forms of media. Once again in the Arcades Project, Benjamin explains his strategy of what he calls literary montage. He writes:

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse-these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.

Anarchist All The way Down: Walter Benjamin’s Subversion of Authority in text, Thought and Action,  James R. Martel in PARRHESIA , Number 21, 2014, 3-12.