Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Dying Light

Light cannot die, though eyes, of course, may.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Inverted World II

This hypothetical novel is set in a universe the inverse of ours: finite in size, but infinitely old (our cosmos being infinite in size and finitely old you see). How finite? The size of the medieval solar system, and bounded by a primum mobile. As our universe began with a big bang, and is a godless and material space, this universe has always existed in a steady state and is a godmade locale interpenetrated by spirit.

What happens in this novel? Well, in such a universe (though not in ours) there is an 'outside', topography beyond the boundary of things--though this outside is not quantifiable in the terms of the universe; and actually the 'side' and the 'out' that make up 'outside' are both features of the home universe as so do not properly obtain. So let's call it, rather, C. But creatures come into the universe from C; and they are us. The creatures we discover living in the innards os this shell resemble angels, or perhaps virtuous devils. The closer to the surface of a planet you go, the further removed you are from Grace, the substratum of this cosmos, and the more miserable you feel -- in this respect, it's like the Cosmos of Lewis's Ransom books. But even walking around on the surface of the planets the beings are more beautiful, stronger, cleverer, less prone to illness and so on. Nevertheless the novel takes a Dawkinsesque twist: it transpires that, having being created whole by a god, the one thing these entities are not so good at is surviving. The visitors, however, have been shaped by evolution; not only in the epiphenomenal manner of gradually upgraded physical and mental acuteness, but in the core sense ... every one of them (every one of us) is the end of a vastly long line of survivors. Every single one of our ancestors survived long enough to pass on its genes. There were countless other organisms in our reality that did not survive, but since they did not pass on their genes they have passed out.

'But,' the natives complain. 'We were created by God! We are perfect!'

'Of course that's exactly the problem,' one kindly-minded infodumper from the C-realm explains. 'Perfect is not an absolute term, or else a "perfect" being would be simultaneously perfectly tall and perfectly short, perfectly young and perfectly old. No, "perfect" only relates to a limited number of aspects of existence. In those respects you exceed us. But our inherent, evolution-granted survivability trumps all of them.'

Thursday, 29 October 2009


The upholsteryishness of a strawberry, when viewed close.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Truth and clarity

According to Niels Bohr 'Truth and clarity are complementary'; or, according to a different version of the same sentiment, when Bohr was asked what was the complementary variable of Wirklichkeit, he replied with the word 'Klarheit'. I'm not sure this statement has been properly understood. It is usually taken, I suppose, as a kind of occam's razor: things are truest that are clearest, clarity presupposes truth and vice versa. But that's really not the same thing at all: a photon's wave-ness and particle-ness are complementary, yet particles and waves are very different things ... as if Bohrs were actually saying 'truth is to clarity as a hail of machine-gun bullets is to Radio 4'. And that seems to me closer to the nature of things. Because, after all, truth is empirically very often not clear: not 'common sense', not 'obvious'. Truth is sometimes dark and obscure.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


The question: in what ways do I resemble the Cimbri? The answer, in two parts: (a) that tea and coffee are of such importance to my days that we might as well say I hold the kettle sacred; and (b) that I too am enormously and perhaps disproportionately impressed by tidal motion ("... see! see! the whole ocean is coming for us, creeping wetly over the ground like a slug the size of God!..."). And here's Strabo [Geographica 7.2.1, trans. H.L. Jones]:
As for the Cimbri, some things that are told about them are incorrect and others are extremely improbable. For instance, one could not accept such a reason for their having become a wandering and piratical folk as this that while they were dwelling on a Peninsula they were driven out of their habitations by a great flood-tide; for in fact they still hold the country which they held in earlier times; and they sent as a present to Augustus the most sacred kettle in their country, with a plea for his friendship and for an amnesty of their earlier offences, and when their petition was granted they set sail for home; and it is ridiculous to suppose that they departed from their homes because they were incensed on account of a phenomenon that is natural and eternal, occurring twice every day. And the assertion that an excessive flood-tide once occurred looks like a fabrication, for when the ocean is affected in this way it is subject to increases and diminutions, but these are regulated and periodical.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Abraham and Isaac

Abraham and Isaac. Let me see if I've got this straight: the curious tangle of significance, the aporia, at the heart of this story goes something like this: God says to Abraham, 'you will be the patriarch at the head of a chosen people, and for this to come about you must show your obedience to me, God, by killing your first-born son, the very agent by which your descendents will come into being!' That has the look of a paradox about it, I suppose. Or at least, this is at the heart of Kierkegaard's 'absurdity/fidelity' thang, the knight-of-faith's suspension of normal ethical demands and possible futures for something strictly absurd ('kill your son to guarantee your son!'). Or I suppose what I'm actually talking about here is a more Zizekian gloss on K.

But the literalist in me thinks: couldn't you have another son, Abraham? (Or, indeed: don't you have any other sons?) Peasants understand the importance of having lots of sons. Maybe that's what God is trying to tell you: something the very opposite of absurd. 'Don't put all your posterity's eggs in one basket! What happens if Isaac falls under a camel train? Have more sons! Indeed, to ram this point home I'm going to insist that you eliminate Isaac from the picture yourself ... you see?'

Sunday, 25 October 2009


Faulkner, in Requiem for a Nun, famously said: 'the past is never dead; it is not even past.' Well, I say famously. It's famously misquoted -- from Obama to Peter Carey it comes out the memory mill as 'the past is not dead; it is not even past.' I wonder why we silently correct it like that? The effect, I suppose, is to turn the sentiment from a general statement that applies to all pasts ('...never...') into a specific statemtent about the vividness with which our past lives in us ('...not...'). But that's not what Faulkner actually said.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Lark Ascending

Vaughan-Williams made something lovely from it, but even the reflected musical glory can't redeem the ghastliness of this awful, awful poem:
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet.
There's neither blitheness nor spirit to this: it's weirdly, inappositely material, solid, metallic: that heavy anchor chain being dropped into the ocean of the sky, together with the specific (tide, ripple, eddy) and inadvertent (can we read 'fleet' without thinking in a naval, rather than a swift, idiom?) semantic field of the poem's vocabulary, lead us to this conclusion: Meredith is troping a lark as a fucking battleship. 'The Dreadnought Ascending' ... now there's an intriguing title for a Science Fiction Story. I hereby pledge to write it.

Friday, 23 October 2009


Wouldn't it be fine to open an Ian Curtis-themed toyshop: Toy Division. Toys are unknown pleasures. I'd set up a returns/customer help stall for people who bought remote-controlled toys and now can't operate them, under the banner 'She's Lost the Control?'

Thursday, 22 October 2009


Negotiation implies entrenchment on either side, the no-man’s-land of negation inbetween. What might a positive negotiation look like? A posotiation?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Hurt thumb poem

If you had kept your thumb
History would have happened somehow different. [Mahabharata]

Thumbpain. The dolmen thumb:
The Stonehenge of my cupped hands
Waiting to receive the flying ball.

The glans of it plastic-shiny nail
The dotage of its wrinkles
at the point where the knuckle

goes round the corner:
ach, my dumb-kopf thumb,
ach the plug of it, between my lips.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Here comes the breeze

Here comes the breeze, they say; here comes the gale. I cannot see it, so I do not believe it. Nerveendings are no substitute for good clean sight, is what I say.

Monday, 19 October 2009


‘Berlin is the testicles of the West. Each time I give them a yank, they holler’ [Krushchev].

East Berlin, West Berlin, two orchids (Hitler died there, in a single Berlin; but of course folk wisdom is convinced he only had one ball). Tender and vulnerable, but also the signifier of adulthood, virility, courage. Hmm.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Moral bankruptcy

‘Moral bankruptcy’ is a frequently invoked cliché these days. What occurs to me is that, by its own logic, it must refer to people of moral standing who have lost it—people who have never been moral cannot be bankrupted of it.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Spiders: the way their legs come out from
the knot of their body in all directions
Like slender thorns: the spurs of a spindly
Asterisk, an expanding jaggedness.
Star-shaped beasties: wormwood their name.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Kelly's sock

The single most memorable and resonant description of socks in all of art: Carey’s Ned Kelly pulls on a pair for the first time in his life at the age of fourteen:
My darling girl your father never knew what he were looking at for he never wore socks in all his life. He sometimes put grass inside his bluchers it had served him well till now. The cove showed him how to arrange the sock correctly and it were a wonder of a thing just to see it turn the corner at the heel. You must not laugh at him for being so simple. [p.82]
No indeed! How sweet (what clever writing) to emblemmatise turning the corner via a sock. And turning the corner is central to Kelly's story.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Mahabritannia

Would a novelistic reimagining of the Mahabharata, set in contemporary Britain, need to be two thousand pages long? Let the plot concern the five sons of King Pan, called the Pandacars, fathered by the elemental forces of the remote and wind-scoured British isles. They embody the varying degrees of Britishness: Dharma-Harma, the martial or belligerent spirit; Yudhishthira/Lud-is-there-a, the tutelary spirit of London; Be(m)art, the spirit of creativity, but also of shopkeeping and trade; Arjuna-Farjuna, the impulse to travel and the twins, the Dioskuroi: the Deep-scored: the principle of repression, depression, the hidden and inaccessible, the marks and scars that all Britains carry upon their hearts. All five marry Draupadi: Drawaparti: the coalescent, or decoalescent, force: the principle that may unify these qualities into a whole, or might set the people squabbling amongst themselves.

You know what: second thoughts say ... no.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


This Coetzee quotation (its from Elizabeth Costello) puts belief posterior to idea: 'Belief may be no more, in the end, than a source of energy, like a battery which one clips into an idea to make it run. As happens when one writes: believing whatever has to be believed in order to get the job done.'

It's striking, but I'm not sure it's quite right ... the implied separation of belief and idea, I mean: the implicit assertion that belief is something deeper than an idea, something in the bone, where ideas are how our minds articulate and manoeuvre their activity. I suppose I don't see how belief is, except as ideas. Belief is always a structure of thought, always a constellation of ideas, not a reservoir or energy. But maybe that's not right.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Twain and Tolstoy

A rare photograph of a young Mark Twain meeting the elderly Leo Tolstoy. We may wonder what these two giants of the literary world had to say to one another!

Eh, hang on a minute...

Monday, 12 October 2009


Thomas Hardy rarely wrote more truly than when he said: ‘today has length, breadth, thickness, colour, smell, voice. As soon as it becomes yesterday it is a thin layer among many layers, without substance, colour or articulate sound’ [27 Jan 1897 ... this is from his Autobiography (Wordsworth ed.) p.293]. The sandstone or slate geologic metaphor is eloquent; but there's also an implicit scienfictional or futurist meaning, I think: that the future is a plenum, plump with possibility.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Loose change

These are the smoothed stones we carry in our pockets; of what sort, and from what beach -- coins like metal pebbles, and skipping stones of tin and nickle.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


I am winter, that doth keep
Longing safe amidst of sleep. [William Morris]

Longing is fragile, and needs to be protected—to be deep-frozen, like food. But does anybody else situate longing, rather than love, at the heart of the lyric like this? St Augustine's old line about being in love with love is surely actually about being in love with longing ... Morris understands that: but who else does?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Of, at

Colour me doh: it never occurred to me, until this day, that Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale naming convention ('Offred' and so on) might have some relation with the prefix-noun nature of her own surname ...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Barred spiral galaxy NGC1300

The laughing e of this stellar multitude
The swept-back hair; the cartoon eagerness,
Or comic-book menace. The devilish goatee.

Its eye like a whale's eye, though pinker,
And with a gleam of intelligence about it
That is not human. Who is it laughing at?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Seven hundred and eighty-six

A throwaway reference in Adiga's The White Tiger (in the Indian cinema, before the film begins 'the number 786 would flash against the black screen -- the Muslims think this is a magic number that represents their god', p.8) sent me to Wikipedia:
The Arabic letters of the opening phrase of the Qur'an sum to the numerical value 786 in the system of Abjad numerals. Not all Muslims place emphasis on this numerological analysis; however, some — mostly in Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh — use 786 as a substitute for the phrase بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم bism illāh ir-raḥmān ir-raḥīm ("in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate")
There is something satisfying-looking about '786', I'd say. Maybe it's that it starts on a holy number (seven), then steps up one (as it might be, into the trans-holy) before falling back respectfully to one below. You can imagine a musical phrase following that cadence; and indeed, the the key phrase itself starts on the holy 'name' (bism), before reaching higher to the actual name itself (illāh) and then falling gracefully backwards to divine attributes ('ir-raḥmān ir-raḥīm')

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Slip Kid

First track on 1975's underrated Who by Numbers. I primp my ears: the rhythym starts with a dried-peas being shaken and some syncopated boingy b'dooms. Then, barely audible in the background, Townshend counts four 2:4 bars, to cue in the rest of the band. Does he really say: 'one, two, three, four, five, six, bin, bag'? I believe he does.

It's one of the Lifehouse songs, of course: and in some sense about the travails, and marginalisation, of youth. Beyond that I really can't parse it. When I was younger I believe (without thinking about it too much) I took the title to be a variant of 'latch-key kid', but I don't now think so.

Monday, 5 October 2009


In his book, Friendship's Bonds: Democracy and the Novel in Victorian England (University of Pennsylvania Press 2004: Google books has a chunk of it, here) Richard Dellamora argues 'Western concepts of the nation-state have been constituted in part in relation to the story of Sodom in Genesis. In other words, Judeo-Christian concepts of state depend upon the imaginary projection of a condemned opposite, called Sodom' [18]. He traces the way key nineteenth-century texts chart the opprobrium attached to 'dangerously near, dangerously assimilated' national or ethnic groups, 'intimate Others'--the Jews, for instance--and 'Victorian distrust or dislike of homosexuality as the extreme version of male intimacy.' It puts a new twist on the interpretation of Fagin in Oliver Twist, for instance, with his grimy, secret, intimate/dangerous harem of boys.

One point that Dellamore makes is that for Victorian theologians 'sodomy' was, at least, until the end of the century, parsed in a more wide-ranging way than just male homosexual sex. Some things aren't covered: I wondered, for instance, about how (assuming Dellamora is right) it affects the development of nationhood that one's intimate-Other is always already laid waste and constituted only on a refugee level. Isn't there a kind of implied triumphalism in this? But mostly it got me thinking about the saltiness of the Sodomitic situation ... which is to say, the way salt has to do with desolation and infertility, but also with life and sexuality (I've talked about this, a little obliquely, before). By this logic, homosexuality would be 'saltier' than straight sex; that's right, I think.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


Phonetically, almost onomatopoeically appropriate word: go. The consonants releases the vowel, almost launches it.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Fly poem

And, yes, this mocha-coloured fly
inhabits light,
the white spaces with the distant
fringing of blue where none live.
It is all he has ever known.

He is on my forearm,
rubbing his eyes in disbelief
at the splendour of his domain.

Friday, 2 October 2009


A glancing point of similarity, this, but given how widely read Landor's Imaginary Conversations were in the nineteenth-century perhaps this passage (from 'Conversation between Chaucer, Boccaccio and Petrarca') was at the back of Carroll's mind when he wrote the Tweedledee and -dum episode. Landor's Chaucer takes up much of this conversation with a lengthy tale about the bumbling, cowardly but endearing English knight Sir Magnus Lucy. Sir Magnus is 'a knight of ample possessions and of no obscure family, in the shire of Warwick.' He yearns to be a warrior, but is too childish.
The good Lady Joan [his Mum] would never let him enter the lists at jousts and tournaments, to which indeed he showed small inclination, nor would she encourage him to practise or learn any martial exercise. He was excused from the wars under the plea that he was subject to epilepsy; somewhat of which fit or another had befallen him in his adolescence, from having eaten too freely of a cold swan, after dinner. To render him justice, he had given once an indication of courage. A farmer's son upon his estate, a few years younger than he had become a good player at quarter-staff, and was invited to Charlecote, the residence of the Lucys, to exhibit his address in this useful and manly sport. The lad was then about sixteen years old, or rather more ; and another of the same parish, and about the same standing, was appointed his antagonist. The sight animated Sir Magnus; who, seeing the game over and both combatants out of breath, called out to Peter Crosby the conqueror, and declared his readiness to engage with him, on these conditions: First, that he should have a helmet on his head with a cushion over it, both of which he sent for ere he made the proposal, and both of which were already brought to him, the one from a buck's horn in the hall, the other from his mother's chair in the parlor; secondly, that his visor should be down; thirdly, that Peter should never aim at his body or arms; fourthly and lastly, for he would not be too particular, that, instead of a cudgel, he should use a bulrush, enwrapped in the under-coat he had taken off.
The fight goes ahead, although a wag puts sneezing powder (seriously: 'a powder of a sternutatory quality' Landor calls it) in Sir Magnus's helmet and he collapses crying aloud that he is dying. ('crying, "Oh Jesu! Jesu! I am in the agonies of death: receive my spirit!" John Crosby kicked the ankle of the farmer who sat next him on the turf, and whispered, "He must find it first".') All very ho-ho, no doubt; but also more than a little Tweedledumdeeish, no?

Thursday, 1 October 2009


Come to Venice looks like a repudplication, almost a tautology; but it's not (Wikipedia says, rather sternly: 'connections with the Latin verb 'venire' [to come] or [Slo]venia are fanciful'). Maybe that's right, but if not then Venice should stand as a warning. Cities should be careful with their names. 'Come!' said Venice, and the waters responded ...