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Little help from all of you. About to start writing a piece about waiting. In particular, the sort of waiting that one does in cities. I have to move very very quickly on this piece, and it’s pretty important that I do a decent job, so…

Can you think of novelistic / poetic / graphic / filmic representations of waiting? Pastoralia like Godot doesn’t really work. I have my own set, but it’s all French, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d like to have some others. Even more French ones, if that’s what it takes.

Fire away, SVP.

Written by adswithoutproducts

September 7, 2009 at 10:50 pm

41 Responses

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  1. The film “the band’s visit.”


    September 7, 2009 at 11:29 pm

  2. Dino Buzzati’s The Tartar Steppe (1940) is all about the waiting.


    September 7, 2009 at 11:51 pm

  3. The first thing that comes to mind is a little obvious, but here goes: Wings of the Dove was the locus classicus for depictions of waiting pre-Godot.


    September 8, 2009 at 12:04 am

  4. Jeff Wall’s “Men Waiting”. I actually find this photograph, like much of his work featuring people, to be incredibly problematic — something to do with his emphasis on voicelessness and photography. But what’s especially strange about “Men Waiting” is that the men themselves — as visually mute to the point of being seemingly undead — are used by Wall to appear as mere formal props to convene his particular idea of pictorial realism, as opposed to the social realism of the situation. That is to say, the men are real while the environment and the conditions that allow the photo to be taken are not…


    September 8, 2009 at 12:10 am

  5. Not sure if it’s what you’re after, but I’d add that one of my favourite recent film tropes is the hero waiting for files to be saved or downloaded (as indicated by a progress bar) while the bad guys draw nearer and nearer. See The Net or Mission: Impossible or Iron Man for instance.


    September 8, 2009 at 12:14 am

  6. “Not sure if it’s what you’re after, but I’d add that one of my favourite recent film tropes is the hero waiting for files to be saved or downloaded (as indicated by a progress bar) while the bad guys draw nearer and nearer. See The Net or Mission: Impossible or Iron Man for instance.”

    Or Office Space, of course.


    September 8, 2009 at 12:22 am

  7. It does work much better if the film is crap though.


    September 8, 2009 at 12:24 am

  8. Moby Dick.

    One of it’s major themes.


    September 8, 2009 at 1:29 am

  9. Joshua Fishburn, “Waiting”:

    “Waiting is a collection of waiting poses, collected from videogames and shown sequentially. It is a removal of player agency coupled with a positioning of avatars in safe places as a challenge to the assumption that modern games are difficult and adversarial. Finally, for non-gamers, it is a visual example of an anti-violence game. The player and avatar do nothing, and thus no violence occurs.”

    Ben Friedlander

    September 8, 2009 at 1:42 am

  10. Waiting by Ha Jin…


    September 8, 2009 at 2:24 am

  11. The bit in “The Speckled Band” (Sherlock Holmes) where Holmes and Watson lock themselves in a beautiful woman’s dark bedroom at night and just wait to hear a whistle (which, when it comes, turns out to be a poisonous snake–which HOlmes new about but decided not to warn Watson). All narrated by a confused Watson–good fun.

    Actually, now that I think of it, there’s lots of good waiting in Holmes. In “The Red-Headed League,” they lock themselves in a bank vault with the bulk of Britain’s reserves and wait for the bad guys to show up (again, in the dark).


    September 8, 2009 at 2:26 am

  12. ah, two more things:

    1) Great Tennyson poem: Mariana (all about waiting for a lover.)

    2) Casablanca–the film is built around the flashback sequence where he Rick waits for Ilsa at the train station in Paris and she never shows.


    September 8, 2009 at 2:34 am

  13. one last one, and then I’m off to bed:

    Dante and Virgil get stuck at the gates to the city of Dis and they have to wait around for an angel to come down from Heaven and get the story going again. (Inferno, but I forget the exact Canto–I could look it up).


    September 8, 2009 at 2:36 am

  14. It’s the ninth, however you could make the point that the whole of Purgatory is about waiting. Actually, our contemporaries who anxiously await the rapture might also be pertinent.


    September 8, 2009 at 3:26 am

  15. What kind of waiting?

    Jarmusch’s films seem to have a lot of waiting … thinking of Broken Flowers specifically, but Dead Man (which is great!) also seemed to be about alternately waiting and traveling. Drifting, really.

    Persepolis is a bunch of flashbacks that tell her story while she is smoking cigarettes in the airport.

    Of course, I think of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations as the ne plus ultra of waiting, eh? — so many women’s stories are of waiting, waiting for the prince to come who never shows up…

    I can think of novels with prisoners waiting, with people waiting in refugee camps, waiting in (or out) unemployment … what type of waiting do you want?

    Oh! Ooh ooh ooh! Wait! There was a review in the Nation a long time ago about a Soviet writer in the 80s who had a book written entirely in dialogue, consisting of waiting for something that never comes. WHat was it? The Queue. I think. It sounded cool, but I don’t know if it had been translated? Maybe one of his other books has but this was the one I really wanted to read…


    September 8, 2009 at 3:57 am

  16. I was going to say ‘Mariana’ too. and I guess ‘Tithonus’ by Tennyson is also about waiting.

    If you want some songs, then recently Bloc Party did a song about waiting for the train in London called ‘waiting for the 7.18’, though the lyrics are not much cop. Madness also did a song in the 80s called (Waiting for) The Ghost Train which is pretty good though the video below is not good. Best of all is ‘Dirty Epic’ by Underworld which has a verse about waiting for the tube while drunk at Tottenham Court Road (something they come back to again in Born Slippy now that I come to think of it).

    Bloc Party (can only find a live video):


    September 8, 2009 at 8:48 am

  17. benoit duteuertre’s novella ‘customer service’ is all about a guy waiting to have his mobile phone fixed – call centres, waiting at the mobile company’s office etc


    September 8, 2009 at 10:30 am

  18. !!!!! wow jesus !!!!!

    thanks so much everyone and keep them coming if you’ve got more. All very helpful, even the “obvious” ones, because one forgets things, you know.

    Everything’s great. A few notes.

    – Yeah, I should put some Wall in there. Need some images, and those are just right. Especially my favorite one, “A View from an Apartment.”

    – The video Ben Friedlander linked to is amazingly smart. Don’t have the bandwidth to watch it all now, but it call to mind something that I used to look at – Red vs. Blue I think it was called – made with Halo. And then thing that always jumped out and made it automatically funny was the awkwardness of the hulking characters at rest. Don’t the Sims (it’s been a long time, and not all that much even back then) sort of shrug at you when you don’t move them around?

    – pollian. The casablanca may go in, but I have to be careful because someone else is doing “commuting.” I.e. I can’t have too much transit waiting. But the Purgatory bit may be a starting point.

    – sisyphus: I JUST read the Queue and it’s going to be one of the backbones of the piece! Why haven’t I posted on it yet? But look over at my reading list on the sidebar – there it is. And it’s a treat!

    – Giovanni: actually, I’ve written something not bad about that sort of trope, and maybe it’ll fit in to the piece, yes. Waste not want not.

    – Shake: Excellent – the piece (personal essay cum academicy thing) will be centred (of course, of course) on Tottenham Court Road…. So especially the last one, yes.

    But christ, everyone, this is superb!!!!! More please!


    September 8, 2009 at 12:53 pm

  19. TJ,

    “Men Waiting” is perfect, as is your reading of it. That’s just the uncanniness of Wall, yes. Have you ever read the Radical Philosophy interview
    with him? Good stuff, and impressively smart choice for RP to do it.


    September 8, 2009 at 12:57 pm

  20. Bela Tarr Damnation

    Will Large

    September 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm

  21. Love the Wall. I was gonna suggest a similar mental image that happens all to often here in CA where the men waiting are almost exclusively Mexican and the gathering area of agreement is where the Home Depot parking lot meets the city street.


    September 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

  22. you have underworld-related mail.


    September 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  23. Thanks Ads, the Radical Philosophy interview is an interesting read — especially the part where Wall describes his relationship to neo-realism and of direct experiences remade as artifice. This helps signal the “uncanny” legibility of his work and the general recognition of urban scenes we all may have seen somewhere at sometime before (much like the mental image Tokyo describes). Jeff Wall moments: we all have them… Otherwise, “View of an Apartment” is a nice, solemn picture (with the two figures quietly wavering between absorption and distraction). I remember when I first saw it at his Tate retro I thought it should have been called “Art Students”.


    September 9, 2009 at 1:57 am

  24. must be things you could use in Huysmanns? A Vau de l’Eau… A Rebours?

    waiting around in L’Etranger?

    waiting around in Joyce: in the newspaper office? Oxen of the Sun too, no?

    knowing how much you love genre, it strikes me that there are two set-pieces on waiting in Tolkien, one in The Hobbit, one in LotR, both involving, um, secret doors into mountains


    September 9, 2009 at 11:37 am

  25. There’s a great French film that was released in England titled ‘Couscous’. There is an extended scenario at the end of the film where the couscous for the opening night of the restaurant is lost, and everyone has to wait for it. The scene alternates between the diversions of the customers, and the retrieval efforts of the owner. Might be useful for you.


    September 9, 2009 at 1:12 pm

  26. An obvious choice that just came to me: Kafka’s “Before the Law.” And a scene from a recent film: Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, a huge crowd gathered peacefully at the riverside, waiting to board a ferry, thrown into panic by the arrival of the tripods. Though maybe a waiting crowd is a different animal.

    And Rob’s recommendation reminds me of a song: Fountain of Wayne’s “Halley’s Waitress.”

    Ben Friedlander

    September 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm

  27. Something that comes to mind, now that we’re venturing into film, is Kieslowski’s short film about killing: all the waiting that Jacek does in route to the murder, the people waiting for the driver to finish washing his car, the man cleaning up the execution chamber…


    September 9, 2009 at 6:28 pm

  28. The Wire is all about waiting: waiting to make a sale, waiting to catch someone making a sale, waiting for a judge, a warrant, or just a solution, an end…

    The Missus

    September 9, 2009 at 11:18 pm

  29. TJ,

    What I love about the Apartment is that there’s something so uncannily ominous about what’s out the window, but there’s no real reason why that should be so. More to it than that, but that’s my start.


    These are so excellent and helpful… Good one, The Missus. Should definitely feature the couch in the middle of the low-rises.


    September 10, 2009 at 1:31 pm

  30. Would think there’s plenty of waiting to be found in The Sopranos; therapists’ waiting rooms, hospital wards, cafes, the Ba Ba Bing; for hitmen, connections, higher-ups, school pick-ups. I’m sure there are a couple of classic set-pieces on it, but memory hazy; been a few years since i last watched.


    September 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm

  31. Bada Bing even.


    September 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

  32. A bit late, but Bernhard’s Old Masters takes place/is narrated while the narrator waits for Reger at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I think The Loser works in a smilar manner. And Banville’s The Untouchable is narrated mainly while the Blunt-figure is waiting for an interviewer to arrive.


    September 11, 2009 at 2:51 am

  33. “actually, I’ve written something not bad about that sort of trope, and maybe it’ll fit in to the piece, yes.”

    Fuck me, so did I:

    It only occurred to me five minutes ago when a friend directed me to

    You’ve got to check out Tres pertinent.


    September 11, 2009 at 9:34 am

  34. In Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, in which time is of the essence, there’s a sequence where Gwyn waits stock-still in the dark for hours on end until Alison finally emerges from the house below. The boy gradually enters a kind of semi-voluntary trance, “playing with time”, “splitting a second into minutes, and then into hours – or taking an hour and compressing it to an instant.” (p. 59 of the Collins paperback)


    September 11, 2009 at 11:39 am

  35. Bela Tarr! I can’t believe I didn’t think of his work. Waiting is a theme in his masterwork Sátántangó as well, but this short film is perhaps a more relevant starting place:


    September 11, 2009 at 6:03 pm

  36. Off the tp of my head:

    Jim Jarmusch? Coen Bros? (both have a very apparent subtext about mortality running throught their films, too)

    Half of Schulz’ ‘Peanuts’ strips?

    A lot of ‘Seinfeld’ episodes?

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind? 2001: A Space Oddeysey? Along with a lot of other ‘cosmic revelation’ sci-fi?


    September 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm

  37. ps. Alexander Payne’s movies too – About Schmidt and Sideways. Arguably a lot of Robert Altman films too – with his procrastinating, passive anti-heroes.


    September 13, 2009 at 5:24 pm

  38. There’s always Borge’s “The Wait” in the Aleph


    September 13, 2009 at 9:27 pm

  39. And The Secret Miracle by Borges? Sort of sort of.

    Waiting and Seinfeld have a deep connection don’t they, because the first ‘classic’ episode is the Chinese restaurant one.


    September 13, 2009 at 11:24 pm

  40. To not to mention the episodes about postponement: marriage, masturbation, parking, sports events etc. etc. ‘Fraser’ had a similar Godot vibe at times too, but not as acute.


    September 13, 2009 at 11:45 pm

  41. the vast majority of Garfield Minus Garfield


    September 16, 2009 at 4:06 pm

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