Thursday, 31 January 2008


Nature does not love us, because the human mind is a chisel to the natural world; and why should the stone love the chisel?

Wednesday, 30 January 2008


They turn the lighthouses off in wartime.
Wartime is when we need the lighthouses most.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Total Perspective Vortex

The total perspective vortex -- what a splendidly anachronistic, what an almost Victorian, idea. As if there were such a thing as total perspective! As if there were some place to stand from which a total perspective was possible! Where would that be exactly? Outside the universe? There is no outside the universe from which such a perspective could be obtained.

Monday, 28 January 2008


That september-eleventh quotation: 'The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong' (Ecclesiastes, 9:11).

Though we have to think, no, not always, that's true. But mostly it is. The race goes usually to the swift, and the battle more often to the superpower with trillions of dollars to spend on high-tech ordnance than to the small bands of suicide bombers.

Sunday, 27 January 2008


'We cannot fall further than the bottom of things' would be a comforting thought, if it weren't the case that our inner ear so often mistakes up and down.

Saturday, 26 January 2008


For 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' read 'of course you can teach an old dog new tricks, but it takes longer, and who can be bothered with that when young dogs are so easily had?'

Friday, 25 January 2008


The flowers are turning red in spring.
The flowers are flesh. The flowers
are growing white in spring
are fading yellow in spring,
parching, bleached,
the flowers,
buds, petals stiff as gristle.
The cartilege of an ear.
The listening, the trumpeting.

Thursday, 24 January 2008


Kierkegaard said: “the tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.” As if there’s a contrast between the one and the other! As if there truth isn’t that there is no person more tyrannical than a dead person, as far as their hold over the living —- for when we are ruled by the living there is always the chance that they will change their mind; but to be ruled by the dead is to be imprisoned in the fossilised version of human will.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Modern London

Contemporary London a photonegative of Early Modern London: a central area in which people live (now: in which livelihoods are pursued), surrounded by a ring in which livelihoods are pursued (now: where people live). The livelihood changes from rural work to office work, but that's not such a big change ...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008


A good deal of academic philosophy concerns itself with bickering over the correct translation of key terms: 'when Aristotle wrote catharsis he meant x, not y as has often been believed...' and so on. Will future philosophers continue this habit? 'Van [Wittgenstein] "What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence" gesaid, per "silence" non min 'abzsen nois, lak-soun' as per min this-day, bt min vat [Wittgentsteines] contmpor [Lacan] call ''the transcendent absolute of the Real" ...' and so on.

Monday, 21 January 2008


Anacharsis famously told Solon the lawmaker: "These decrees of yours are no different from spiders' webs. They'll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they'll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth." But he was interrupted. He meant to go on: "...and good thing too; for otherwise laws would be so strong as to tangle-up aristocrats, kings, and even the gods themselves ... and think what a terrible state that would be. I ask you. Gods subpoenaed? Gods dragged into court? Really."

Sunday, 20 January 2008


Why so many stars? Do you say it is because there is so much sky to fill?

Imagine a world where stars are only visible from the northern hemisphere; what might explorers to the south have made of the empty austral astronomy ... a blighted place, languishing in dark? Or a place where the night skies were pure, clean, holy?

Saturday, 19 January 2008


Poetry is paraconsciousness.

Friday, 18 January 2008


Seneca's Oedipus rages [John Fitch translates]:
"See, a sudden flurry of tears burdens my face and wets my cheek with weeping. And is it enough to weep? No longer shall my eyes pour out this paltry moisture: they must be driven from their seats and follow their tears." [Oedipus 952f.]

John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee, translating, or adapting, the play in 1679, find a more striking form of words (the 'these' of the first line are his tears)
Yet these thou think'st are ample satisfaction
For bloodiest Murder and for burning Lust:
No, Parricide; if thou must weep, weep blood;
Weep Eyes, instead of Tears.

The idea that we might weep solidity from our eyes is a powerfully odd one; but it is saved from mere peculiarity by its connection with our own sense of the ambiguous status of eyeballs. They are solid, but also liquid--Shakespeare's vile jelly embodies the sense that the vileness is a function of their half-solid, half-liquid jellied abjection.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Antiontological proof

The believer has in his head an idea of God (as the most perfect being) that includes existence: hence, he says, God exists. But wait: I have in my head an idea of God without existence; which is to say, I conceptualise a God just like the one the believer conceptualises, but with this crucial difference: He doesn't exist. My God is more perfect than the believer's God, since it is unsullied by existence. Therefore, by the terms of the ontological proof, mine is the God to go with.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Greatest Conceivable Blue

'We recognise and identify goodness, and degrees of good, and are thus able to have the idea of a greatest conceivable good' says Iris Murdoch [p.395], throwing her weight behind the ontological proof.

I don't see this at all. It's the 'and thus' that's screwy. Imagine the sentence recast with the word 'blue' replacing 'goodness': '...we identify degrees and intensities of blue ... and thus we must inevitably accept that there is a greatest conceivable blue.' To which we can only say: nope.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Sky poem

The air blue as cigarette smoke.
The heavens taut:
That noise is the drumbeat.
A tree has settled and will not move.
A jetplane cuts a white slit in the sky.

Monday, 14 January 2008


Turner is both a proper name (with all the complexities of that process of arbitrary signification: I am Adam yet I am not the first man! I am Roberts yet my father is not Robert!) -- and it is a word, a description of something Turner the artist does. Two things, actually: for he is both a craftsman, like a Turner creating chair legs out of wood he makes images out of paint and canvas; and he is also somebody who swerves or reorients our way of looking at the world; our preconceptions about beauty; our understanding of light.

Sunday, 13 January 2008


'That portion of France is washed by the Mediterranean Sea...' Washed, yet never cleaned. Are there any other uses of 'washing' that don't imply cleansing?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Adam's actual rib

To feel round the side of one's torso, where the ribs progressively shorten like organ pipes beneath the skin. There is an incompletion to the feel of it, a sense that the boyd is missing something ... those shorter ribs feel, somehow, broken off. Hence, presumably, things like the myth of Adam's rib being removed to make another person. But what puzzles me is that nobody has theorised the psychosymbolism of lack of the rib ... it's all phallus (isn't there anything phallic about these stubby, bone-hard protrusions inside my torso?). Surely the rib cage feels more palpably incomplete than the genitalia of either sex!

Friday, 11 January 2008

The virtue of love

A: Love is no more a virtue than breathing is a virtue.

B: I know what you mean. It depends what you do with love. After all, people may selfishly love only themselves, or else may love to torture, or love death ...

A: You don't know what I mean at all. I am not speaking instrumentally, after that fashion. Love is not the scale against which we should measure the rightness of wrongness of actions, for there will always be some people who love any action, no matter how base. What I mean is that we ought not to presume to congratulate ourselves merely on the fact of loving. Loving must be the medium through which we move, no more worthy of mark (in itself) than air. Loving must be the background noise of our lives. It ought to go without saying.

Thursday, 10 January 2008


In that human beings (as Heidegger might say) are defined by their finitude, immortality is inhuman. That is why, when the first immortality treatments are developed, they will be available only for the semi-human (celebrities, royalty, that sort of thing) to help them complete that difficult transformation into inhumanity.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Erotic patriotism

Bernard Knox (in J de Romilly's Sophocle: Sept Exposés Suivis de Discussions, 1982) has this to say about the polis: 'The city demanded more than obedience and conformity. In the great panegyric of Athenian imperial democracy which Thucydides attributes to Pericles it demands a fanatical, irrational devotion, the devotion of a lover: the Athenians are to "fix their gaze daily upon the power of the polis and become its lovers" (erastas gignomenous autees). This is an extraordinary phrase and its significance has been generally undervalued: it is not to be compared, as most translations suggest, with such bland phrases as "love of country". The word erastas suggests an overwhelming romantic passion, an emotion usually associated in Athenian society of this period with homosexual love, one which takes exclusive possession of the soul of its victim, driving him to extreme demonstrations of devotion. Such love is characterised in Plato's Symposium, the locus classicus for the subject, as 'voluntary slavery' (ethelodouleia); the lover is "willing to serve in slavish ways no real slave would put up with." Pericles' phrase calls for a total dedication to the polis ... That the call was answered is plain from the extraordinary record of Athenian activity in the years between 490 and 404 and the recognition on the part of Athens' enemies that they were facing no ordinary adversary. "They use their bodies in the city's service", say the Corinthians, "as if they were not their own and their minds as very much their own, for action in the city's interest." [5-6]

It's a strange fate that has befallen modern life, that contemporary patriotism is so often correlative of a mindset hostile to the very idea of homosexual love. Evidently, and despite the identification of 'the city' with a female deity, Athens as a polis was male (comprising only freeborn adult Athenian males; no women, slaves or foreigners), and the love for the polis was a homosexual erotic dedication. Which makes a good deal of psychological sense. In the longer perspective, indeed, it may come to be regarded as a peculiar aberration of recent Western civilisation to seek to separate out homosexual military erotics and ideological patriotism in the way we tend to; they more usefully go together. Homoerotic patriotism, or perhaps a more generally conceived erotic patriotism, would reinvigorate this diluted concept.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008


Dinosaurs code enormity for us, even though most were not enormous; they are the key cultural locus for puerile sublimity (huge! monsters!). Hence we find ourselves fascinated by the impact event theory of their extinction, because an even bigger monster event devouring our huge monsters compacts our awe at the sheer scale of these beasts. We crave vastness, in life, in death. But say the dinosaurs were not wiped out in a single catastrophe, but faded, eroded over time by the predations of virus, bacteria and changing environment. Something is lost.

Monday, 7 January 2008


All the world prefers certainty to truth.

Sunday, 6 January 2008


It's famous enough: 'Tragedy is, then, a representation of an action that is heroic and complete and of a certain magnitude—by means of language enriched with all kinds of ornament, each used separately in the different parts of the play: it represents men in action and does not use narrative, and through pity and terror it effects a katharsis of these and similar emotions.' [Aristotle, Poetics 1449b]

But what hasn't occurred to me before is the idea that Aristotle actually means what he says here: that the purpose of tragedy is to produce pitiless, fearless men; men who could fight in the Athenian army and navy without qualm or hesitation, who could kill without mercy. It could be that Aristotle's theory is that tragedy produces cold-eyed killers, and good thing too.

Saturday, 5 January 2008


"Tragedy is alien to the Judaic sense of the world," George Steiner argues in The Death of Tragedy, adding that "the Book of Job is always cited as an instance of tragic vision. But that black fable stands on the outer edge of Judaism, and even here an orthodox hand has asserted the claims of justice against those of tragedy ... Job gets back double the number of she-asses; so he should, for God has enacted upon him a parable of justice" [6-8], Can Steiner really mean this? It is as if to say: 'the Holocaust was a parable of justice, because although Jews suffered, at the end they got Israel to live in'. Wouldn't that be a crazy, not to say insulting, assertion, though?

Job, surely, is a parable of the arbitrariness of life; the arbitrariness of suffering is succeeded, for no very good reason, by the arbitrariness of reward. And that arbitrariness is, precisely, at the heart of tragedy.

Friday, 4 January 2008

London night

Night. Walking down St Martin's Lane, the moon is perfectly hemmed in between two tall buildings, the two upward straights tangential to diametrically opposite points on the circle's arc. A night in Guinness livery, cream-coloured disc on top of a tall draught of black.

Thursday, 3 January 2008


Scientists tell us that different emotions appear at different moment in the evolutionary saga (so, fear comes early; ennui late) and therefore differ in terms of brain physiology. One question is whether this developmental narrative of emotions will continue; whether new emotions will arise, adaptively, in our environment (specifically urban emotions, for instance; let's say 'spart', 'monahay' and 'fribbishness'); or whether our earlier emotions will become increasingly vestigial ... so that future humans know anxiety and angst, but never the heart-galloping terror that a predator is about to leap upon them.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008


We need an ethics of uncleanness. The problem is the ancient error of confusing the literal and metaphorical senses of hygene ... striving for the former is almost always a good idea, striving for the latter (counterintuitively, but the lesson of history is unambiguous) always a bad one. Ethnic cleansing; racial purity; fundamentalism--all bad. 'Sexual purity' as a code for sexua abstention is a particularly dangerous and destructive notion. A leaven of (metaphorical) uncleanness is absolutely needful for a fully functioning sex-life. Woody Allen says it very well: 'is sex dirty? Only if done right.'

Tuesday, 1 January 2008


Dawn breaks out of an almond-coloured sky.