Everything about Rupert Clervaux' art feels considered.
The composer has a weight of touch that renders each emotion in absolute clarity, using his inter-disciplinary experiences to unfold new possibilities.
Debut solo album ‘After Masterpieces' is out now, six renderings of his poetry, a phenomenal release that comes equipped with luxurious artwork designed by Alex McCullough and Kia Tasbihgou.
Given his poetic instincts Clash tracked Rupert Clervaux down to discuss his literary inspirations in Their Library.
“Stories twine and untwine.
Could ambiguity itself be the unexpected solution?
I’m ruefully aware that these lines constitute an act:
a lurching toward the love that moves the sun.”
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What is your favourite book and why?
There’s no way I could say just one. I’d likely find it easier to concoct a kind of unending list of varieties of favour which could come to accommodate all the writing I’ve loved and learned from.
Examples would be...
Favourite book that entirely redefines historiographical perspective: Second Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich.
Favourite book that plumbs the depths of philosophical investigation while remaining at the height of poetic and literary craft: The Book Of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.
Favourite book that forces you to reflect on the embarrassing complacencies that affect your daily thoughts and actions: Citizen by Claudia Rankine.
Favourite book to give to someone as a gift in 2018: The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tzing.
And so on…
What other authors do you like?
Again, too many to mention. So, off the top of my head––
In fiction: Olga Tokarczuk, Malcom Lowry, Esther Kinsky, Juan Rulfo, Antonio Tabucchi…
In non-fiction: Paul Veyne, Simone Weil, Wendy Brown, Bernard Stiegler, Abdullah Ocalan…
In poetry: Thylias Moss, Rene Char, Juliana Huxtable, Geoffrey Hill, Osip Mandelshtam…
What draws you to certain books?
I certainly have a couple of close friends who are regular and very reliable sources of recommendation. But I think over time reading becomes its own self-sufficient eco-system.
Books naturally lead to other books – George Steiner is kind of a father figure in-absentia in this respect: after precociously grappling with Real Presences as a late-teen I began to appreciate the importance of trying to understand the webs of reference and influence that subtly bind together the evolution of literary ideas and expression…
That book’s daunting index, and subsequently that of Grammars Of Creation and The Poetry Of Thought, laid the foundations of a reading list has been growing exponentially year on year.
Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?
The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki springs to mind… being an established classic it’s certainly not ‘lost’, but on a personal level it was fascinating to discover that book, written in the 10th century and thought to be the first ever literary work in the form of a novel.
Outside more bookish conversations, and perhaps for depressingly obvious reasons, you don’t find her rubbing shoulders with Dante, Cervantes and the host of other towering figures of literary invention.
Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
My music is so heavily impacted by my literary influences that it’s impossible for me to imagine what it might sound like without them.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho, and am about to start either Prison Memoirs Of An Anarchist by Alexander Berkman, or Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson…
Did you make good use of your library card when you were younger?
No—I don’t even remember having one actually… I always liked having an interactive and longterm relationship with books and mine today are full of small markers and underlinings to help me locate certain passages––never a popular practice with librarians!
Do you read book reviews?
I’m a London Review of Books subscriber––so, yes! But generally I read all the reviews of non-fiction, and skip or briefly scan any reviews of fiction I haven’t read—in case I come to want to read that book without prejudice at some point. They also run excellent joint reviews of books about current affairs which serve as sources of the kind of in-depth and contextually grounded information that’s lacking in daily print- and TV- news.
Would you ever re-read the same book?
Yes, absolutely… I remember hearing Susan Sontag comment that any book worth reading is worth re-reading––thus lending her esteemed authority to what I thought at the time was an indulgent tendency! One of the things I love most about reading is the span of time it inherently takes. So over the course of a book your moods, thoughts and feelings affect the role you play as the reader––and this is obviously amplified by reading it again later in life. There’s also the need for me to reference specific passages while doing my own work, and that constantly draws me back to re-read sections of books. Beyond that, there are those types of books which resist a linear reading in the first place––poetry being the obvious example, but ‘The Book of Disquiet’ of Wittgenstein’s Investigations both defy linearity in the same way and often come down from the shelf.
Have you ever identified with a character in a book?
When I was much younger I was very attracted the ultimate nihilism of Kirilov in ‘Devils’. A person willing, out of sheer disdain for existence, to set a time for their suicide and lay waste to their own legacy by agreeing to posthumously and casually accept the blame for political crimes they didn’t commit cuts an insuperably dark shape!
More recently, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Knulp by Herman Hesse, on the basis that she thought I reminded her of the book’s wandering protagonist. She did clarify that she didn't extend the similarity to thinking I might end my years in the same way as poor Knulp does… but I gladly accepted the comparison while reading it!
And I actually used fragments of the text, at the moment of Knulp’s demise, in a reworking of ‘Lonely Vagabond’ I did for Alexis Taylor’s ‘Listen With Piano’ LP.
Do you read one book at a time or more than one?
I think certain types of writing can work very well being read in tandem… reading the London Review made that very apparent as most of the pieces are substantial essays in their own right, and they form a constant backdrop to whatever I’m reading.
For me its a categorical thing––I can read a piece of non-fiction and a novel at the same time, but not two novels. And poetry interjects itself regularly throughout…
Is there an author or poet you would like to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with Juliana Huxtable. I saw her perform at Rewire Festival last year, in a cavernous church in The Hague, and my reaction is engraved in my memory… it was a magnetic and mesmerising synthesis of music, poetry and spectacle.
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'After Masterpieces' is out now.
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