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Peter Robinson

from Other Trespasses


Stockhausen’s idea that a successful terrorist attack widely watched on television screens could be a work of art recalls Walter Benjamin on the Futurists. They are the apotheosis of l’art pour l’art because they offer the prospect of our own destruction as an aesthetic spectacle. Which is to say (I’ve always supposed) that if terrorist outrages and Futurism are both art, well then, they’re bad art.


Absolute power over life and death, like that of the Roman Emperor at the end of a gladiatorial contest, can never be art — because the omnipotence, being a matter of personal whim, has no meaning. And this applies to novelists who, approaching the one by killing off a character for the convenience of the plot, simultaneously distance their work from the other.


I’m in Santander again, walking with a group of acquaintances across a large grassed square in the middle of town. Ornate churches and other civic edifices are all around us. I’m discussing how the place has a curiously English character, and we agree that it results from centuries of trade between the two countries. It feels good to be back here again, though I don’t know where we’re heading or exactly what I’m here for. Yes, it certainly feels good — which is odd indeed because, awake, I’ve never set foot in the place.


Reading a poem for the first time is like trying to get money out of an ATM machine when you don’t know the state of your account. Now and then the transaction is concluded with a cheering surprise.


Small presses tend to utter currency whose value can — at that moment — barely be traded on the money markets; big presses haplessly issue junk bonds.


To the Zen sentence that if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him, a Nietzsche might reply, if you meet God on the road ... just give him a smile. It must be a case of mistaken identity. The poor fellow will be suffering from delusions of grandeur.


‘The Silent Channel’, a poem with no words dedicated to the memory of Karl Kraus, and with the following epigraph: ‘Entspannen Sie sich — auf diesem Kanal werden alle nebengeräusche gedämpft’ [‘For absolute silence we have created this noiseless channel so you can relax without being disturbed.]’ Austrian Airlines.


A politically correct culture is an imitation fur coat — inhabited by real fleas.


‘I wouldn’t trust my memory as far as I could throw it.’ ‘So how far would that be?’ ‘Sorry?’


Not only do some people want to talk you to death, they want to do the post-mortem as well.


Progress: it’s as if we had fashioned a stick to help a poor man walk, but then obliged him to do nothing but lean on it so as to feign a worsened hobble.


‘Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible’ (official stamp on a birth certificate).


‘A pure heart is an excellent thing,’ Lichtenberg wrote, ‘and so is a clean shirt.’ Oh if only I could take my heart to the cleaners!


Old-time eroticism: the more you cover, the more there is to discover. Contemporary eroticism: even our fig leaves are peek-a-boo.


From a political commentator discussing red tape and bureaucracy in the European Union: ‘... the British people don’t need any more literature.’


Whenever I hear a security announcement asking me to report anything that looks suspicious, suddenly everything does.


The commercialization of sexuality is no more evident than in plucked, shaped, or shaven pubic hair: what was once virgin forest, now an environmental hot spot.


Foreignness is its own reward.


It happens that I can’t re-read a novel that I know I like. Even a sentence or two just produces a nauseous vertigo. But it’s not the book I can’t stand to revisit. It’s the ‘me’ who used to like it that’s making someone faintly sick.


Wittgenstein makes much of the fact that his right hand could not give his left hand some money. Yet by far the hardest debts to repay are the ones you incur with yourself.


Recognition is the status that a society’s representatives confer on an artist; but, if and when such a thing comes, it will likely feel decidedly hollow. Not so the appreciation that you may receive from an individual reader.


Even decontextualization has to take place somewhere.


The number of how-to-do-it manuals there are for poetry in bookshops these days you’d think it was the new sex.


Come to think of it, though, the relations between meter and rhythm are not unlike those between sex and love.


According to a fellow poet, I’m like the purloined letter: hiding in full view.


All this branding of others as elitists is enough to make you die of loneliness. Try to tell someone you’re just like everybody else — and they’ll like as not banish you immediately to the fourth estate.


Some poets need to have enemies — so as to be on their side as well.


In any evolving pattern or series it’s the elements that appear not to fit which will prove the most significant.


Life so often seems like a play in which the characters are even less plausible than the backdrop — and that’s precisely what makes them real.


Are intellectuals who — like Theodor Adorno — demonstrate the collusion between knowledge and power inevitably doomed to become authorities?


‘JE est un autre’: it’s a curious fact that because we hear our voices through the bones of the skull, and are surprised by the recorded sounds we’ve made, the one person who can’t hear his or her ‘voice’ as others will is the composing poet. Ah yes; but the poet’s voice — being a style evolved through dialogues between writing, speaking, and listening as if you were another — is the audible structure of a particular poem played back through the poet’s necessarily personal sound system. This is a reason, among many, why a poet’s ear must be trained to hear the timbre of the language, and not have it drowned out by the sound of her or his own voice.


Where’s the need of metaphysics when the wind is in the trees?

Note: Other Trespasses is a continuation of the series of aphorisms in the first part of Untitled Deeds (Salt Publications, 2004). See

There is a photo, a bio note and links to dozens of pieces of writing by Peter Robinson on his Jacket Author Notes page.

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