Monday, 31 December 2007


A circle cannot cast a shadow from its own circumference.

A circle need not be a circle; there are, after all, an infinite number of closed curves of fixed radius. In this sense, and this sense only, the cosmos is circular.

Sunday, 30 December 2007


We treat whalesong as a rune, to be decoded (for we ask: but what are the whales saying to one another?) But we should think rather of whalesong as a tide, a flow, not A-to-B but A and A in a circularity that communicates by communing. Whalesong is a medium, not a message.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Good Life

In What I Believe Bertrand Russell said: "the good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. " He gets this exactly the wrong way round, for of course the good life is the life inspired by knowledge and guided by love.

Friday, 28 December 2007

The baby

The baby sleeps, mostly; or feeds; but sometimes he stares about him with poorly-focussed and mute astonishment, an expression that borders on a kind of comical outrage. Sometimes he bleats like a little goat, and sometimes makes a series of rapid running-on e-e-e noises, for all the world like a dolphin. Occasionally he cries, which though never loud (his lungs are still tiny) is nevertheless one of the most penetrating noises I think I have ever heard. Unignorable. Then again, when he sleeps he looks more peaceful than any human I have seen; and sometimes his open eyes seem to articulate a kind of rolling bliss, an uncontending contententness, happy simply to look. Particularly to look at bright lights.

Thursday, 27 December 2007


George Santayana's most famous line is from The Life of Reason (1905-06): "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But which lesson from history are we to learn? Before Iraq (say), politicians had to choose between remembering Vietnam, or remembering the appeasement of Hitler. That we have been condemned to repeat the former is not a function of a failure to remember, but rather of remembering, perhaps in good faith, the wrong thing. But Santayana's apothgem doesn't help us with this ...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007


Philosopher R G Collingwood, in The New Leviathan (1942), commented upon his own profession: 'I seem to remember something that Bernard Bosanquet once said about the loss to professional thought from the fact that it is always done by cowards' [v]. There's something in this, isn't there? Not so much that professionals become over-cautious for fear of losing the comfort of their positions and salaries (although of course that may be a problem), as the fact that professionalisation itself enshrines a set or system that a braver individual may need to discard, or even to kill.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007


That violet quality of the dusk that is not, or is not only, a function of colour. We are tired, but the river is not tired. It moves its waters slowly, lowly, with enough buoyancy not to sink into the earth but not so much that it flies into the air to turn, like distant hills breaking from the horizon and floating upwards, away, into clouds.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Pity the readers

One of Vonnegut's pieces of advice for aspiring writers was 'pity the readers'. Perhaps he meant 'don't make the going too hard on your readers'; but that's commercial, not aesthetic or writerly-ethical, advice. The truth is that readers do not need pity; generally speaking they are able to look after themselves very nicely, thank you, and writers affecting to 'pity' them are just being condescending. What readers need is writers who treat them as adults ... as, indeed, equals.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Lace poem

St Peter's Hospital, the Labour ward
Six a.m. In-between contractions
Rachel breathing like Darth Vader
On gas and air, I stand looking
Through the sheet glass
At the empty carpark, the grass bank,
And the winter trees sharp
Against the membraneously paling sky,
And I am struck by: how little winter trees
Resemble skeletons; and how much
Lace, something precious weaving into life.

Friday, 21 December 2007

A fourteen hour labour ...

But let's, say, imagine a forty-eight hour labour. Where is it written that the child's birthday must be the day on which he actually appeared? Why not on the day on which labour starts?It is easy, after all, is note the date when a birthing began; and what is birth if not a beginning?

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Rivers at dawn

Thames is a river. Its surface is a million intermingling worms of light and dark.

The horizon is another river. The soft laminations of purples, blues, pinks and yellows, and blobby clouds, of a warm oil-and-water dawn.

My heart is another river.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Hugo addresses his Muse

You loved Juvenal, bubbling with lava picante,
Your clarity shone in the fixed eye of Dante,
Muse Indignation! Come now, show your temper,
Lay it out on this ‘happy’ and ‘radiant’ empire,
And from ‘victory’, struck like a thunderclap home,
Give me pillories enough to make—an epic poem!

Toi qu'aimait Juvénal, gonflé de lave ardente,
Toi dont la clarté luit dans l'œil fixe de Dante,
Muse Indignation! Viens, dressons maintenant,
Dressons sur cet empire heureux et rayonnant,
Et sur cette victoire au tonnerre échappée,
Assez de piloris pour faire une épopée!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


We sometimes think of the soul 'inhabiting' the body as a person might inhabit a house. Of course, the soul does not really inhabit the body in this way; but then neither, actually, does a person 'inhabit' a house in this way.

Monday, 17 December 2007


That loping run, with little skips intermixed, by which the unfamiliarly lengthy limbs attempt to accomodate themselves to the rhythm, that is so characteristic of adolescents.

Sunday, 16 December 2007


Fishscale silver, bruised,
Clouds ashamed of the ground.

The clouds are painted.
You can see the brushstrokes.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Selfhelp slogans

Again is not always a gain.
The race is not always to the swift; though the flight may be.
It's good ethics to be ethnice.
Expect miracles from falling water.
We make a cult of difficult; but where is our easicult?
Do you have the nerve for verve?
A story has a beginning, a middle and an end; life only a beginning.
'Call no man happy until he is dead'; but don't call him sad either.
Soul is old; we need new.
Zero-sum is handsome.
God died honourably, and deserves honest burial.
Last days last all day.
Each of us is a slave to our need to lave.
Neither courage nor fear is our unique property.

Friday, 14 December 2007

The gods

This is what my friend the Ancient Greek says: 'the gods are the people who do the labour that makes the cosmos work. Phoebus, for instance, toiling across the sky with his horses, tugging the sun. In my culture, there's a name for those people who do the work that makes things run. We call those people slaves.'

Thursday, 13 December 2007


There, spermatozoon comet; here mundus-ovum. Consummation: a mode of replication overwriting existing life.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Plough

The constellation Ursa Major, the Bear. I saw it last night, from a moving car, its whitelit axes so clear in the ink-coloured sky that they almost joined one another up. It was tipped on its handle, the blade straight upright, which made me think: if that is ploughing the sky, then the soil of the sky is turned ninety-degrees through the terrestrial axis. Which made me think: we're at right angles to the stellar horizontal. We're out of kilter, says the Plough.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Swearing ... it isn't big, it isn't clever. It's immature. But isn't that a puzzling way of putting it? Swearing is something adults do, after all, to a much greater degree than children; we might say it is precisely mature, if deplorable. After all, much swearing refers to sexual activities that are by definition adult, not childish.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Baba Yaga at Baba Yar

This house has no doors or windows
You don't go in; do as you're told;
Instead it goes after you
On its chickenstepping legs.

This house without doors or windows,
This mudwallhouse, is death.
Only the chime of shovels into dirt
The chime and rustle of shovelling

She says: It's roofed over with dirt
A rifletube the chimney. The feathers
All pulled off from its goosebumpy legs
Walking to this spot and no other.

Puffs of smoke from the chimney
Shaped like souls jolted upwards
Thrown down and up at once.
She says: baba. The guns say: bababa.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Caravaggio's famous painting of Saint Thomas: it has a weird, unsettling quality to it, which I had always assumed (doubting Thomas thrusting his finger in the vaginal slit in Christ's side) had to do with its uncomfortable-looking quasi-sexual emphasis. After all, who is it that penetrates Christ's body? Only his enemies (crucifying him) and those of his disciples who doubt him; not his devout followers. And yet his followers today devour him whole--he penetrates them, not the other way around. There's something unnerving about thinking the reverse (the penetratable Christ). Which leads to a flip-about interpretation of Caravaggio's image; Thomas passsive, not active; Christ's torso, active, not passive. The strange angle of Christ's head on his body disconnects it, visually speaking; and then we're looking at one of those Bosch-y devils without heads, but with faces embedded in their chests: Christ's nipples for eyes, his wound now a hungry mouth, gobbling and devouring Thomas's hand. Thomas becomes the eucharist; Christ internalises him.

Saturday, 8 December 2007


A: Height is not a scale.
B: Not a scale?
A: Height is not a scale without depth.
B: You're wrong: height is not a scale without breadth.

Friday, 7 December 2007


The snagged fly snores in the spider's web

Thursday, 6 December 2007


She gripped the rail. She could not think about letting go the rail. The sea thrashed and quaked like the end of the world. She held on for her very life. The deck would tip alarmingly, and heave back, and forward again; and she would grimace and nod. He was still talking. She struggled to pay attention to him. To pay him attention. She had to bear in mind. He was telling her she had to bear in mind.

‘Bear,' he yelled. 'In mind—is—they’re—not,’ and he jabbed a thumb at his own brow, tapping the forehead between his straggleweedy eyebrows, ‘thinking beings. Not like humans.’ And the deck angled angrily, and both his hands went back to the rail to steady himself.

'You say so,' she shouted, trying to make herself heard above the cacophony. She had no idea if he could hear her.

His hands, clasping the deckrail, were blue and white. The sea blew torrent after torrent of spray over him, over them both, like clouds of wet sparks. Foam sloshed across the deck and sucked out through the drainholes.

Away below them both down the metal cliff-face of the ship, where the waves frenzied, she could see the winches tightening the net’s mouth. Within, shrieking so piercingly that it could be heard even over the boisterous noise of the winds, was a crowd of seapeople; a mass of them. A clutch of them. They tangled together, clasping one another, struggling, a confusion of arms and faces and scaled muscle; of slick white skin; of muscular grey and purple and black tails.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Poetry: from poesis, a making, a shaping. Except that poetry now, even in its broadest sense, is a actually kind of creative unmaking; a breaking-down of the calcified whole-habits of the reader's sensorium so as to bring newness into perception. Not a Heideggerean 'bringing forth', but a Deleuzian novelty; not poesis, but (neos, new) neotry.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


The reason why time seems to pass more slowly for children than adults--why summer holidays appear to last forever, the way time drags for children--is that they are better at paying attention to the world than adults are. Adults get distracted, and the time slips past them. Children are immersed in the world, and the time stretches.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Techonological Uncanny

Phones? But phones don't spook us anymore (do they?) The ghost rocket? The spectral iPod? The haunted laptop?

Sunday, 2 December 2007


The practice today is to translate everything, from Homer to Euripides to the New Testament, into a clear contemporary English. But this has the effect of flattening out the respective historical and linguistic idioms of the texts concerned. So here's what to do: pick a date as a notional 'contemporary' (let's say, first century AD). Then assemble an anthology of Greek Literature in English. Translate the Homer and Hesiod into Chaucerian English; translate the Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes into Elizabethan English; translate passages from the N.T. and Lucian's novels into contemporary English.

There would be plenty of scope for individual variation to reflect the particular styles of individual authors (Sophocles could be rendered Shakespearian, Aristophanes as Jonsonian comedy, Plato translated into the style of Francis Bacon and so on); and writers from other periods could be slotted into other periods: Apollonius Rhodius translated with Shelleyan flourishes, for instance.

It would be a winner.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

On lying

We need an ethics of lying, for very few of us are strong enough actually to live strictly by the maxim: 'always truthful!' Given that this is the case, we are then in the situation either of believing the moral absolute implied in that maxim even as we fall short of it (which is to say, of putting ourselves to the inconvenience of having always to lie), or, more ethically, or finding a ground that will help us distinguish between those times when a lie is the wrong thing to utter and the times when it is the right thing. I'm not sure what that ground is; except that it cannot be expediency.

Friday, 30 November 2007


The dark green tongue-shaped wedge of each tree against the twilight.

The grassy odour of olive oil.

A swimming pool, ten metres across, filled, it seems, with green tea.

The breeze tackles him like a footballer, burlies against him, tries to knock him over. His hair flies but his legs are set firm. Like a tree he thinks. He thinks; green. Impossible to strengthen green to green. He thinks.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


A problem with 'religion' is the profound, structural difficulty it has shedding its own mistakes. In this respect at least, science is much better positioned. And this is the particular--relatively little discussed, it seems to me, but vital--upon which the future of religion hinges. This is why homosexuality is such a crucial issue for the big monotheisms at the moment. Not because it is inherently important, for it isn't; but for cultural and historical reasons it has become a major blot in the cultural discourse of religion. It's axiomatic that the condemnation of consensual homosexual sex, or of a homosexual orientation, is, simply, an error. The extent to which Christianity and Islam persist in this error is the index of their pathology. Finding ways of moving religion past its mistakes may well be the great challenge of the age. Inerrant is one of the most terrible terms of dispraise in the lexicon, though often taken otherwise.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Self-reflexively, re-reading of Bellow's Herzog (1964) makes me a little uneasy about a blog such as this ... which is to say, leads me to wonder whether blogging these sorts of apothgems, daily doesn't constitute a sort of Herzogification. A manner of Herzogging. Evidence of a man gone Herz-a-gogo. On the other hand, it has also caused me to wonder why it takes Herzog so long (the sorts of lengths of time Bellow stipulates) to jot down the rather sparse epistolary fragments he includes in the novel. Ah well.

There are also strangely misfiring grace-notes. 'Beauty is not a human invention,' the novel says; but not only is beauty a human invention, it may be the only human invention--since wheels-and-axles and writing predate humanity.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


You can't skip breakfast. It's an impossibility. Whichever meal you next eat will be the meal that breaks your fast.

Monday, 26 November 2007


Craig Raine argues that the appeal of erections is in their subjectivity: 'This is how erections feel--larger than life. That is why men like them. They enlarge us.' [TLS 23 Nov 2007, p.3]. But ... really, though? The same might be said of eating an excess of pastries. 'Look at my flabby belly! How wonderful it is! It enlarges me!'

Sunday, 25 November 2007


We're all smoke, eventually. It all depends on the timescale.

Saturday, 24 November 2007


The thing that puzzles our souls about radiation poisoning is the way the very word contradicts its message. We are deeply habituated to think of poison as a product of darkness, of dirt and putrescence, of secrecy and shadows. But radiation is a form of light, and it is very hard for us to think of light as poison. (Light can blind, of course; and it can of course burn; we know that; we comprehend that; it correlates to our sense of its essence. But poison us?) What is more alarming than the thought that poison can radiate?

Friday, 23 November 2007


And this the rational clear-eyed resolution:
to bring a visual mind to the profane séance,
an argus-eyed mind, burnished with thinking,
peeping and shining its rapturous decadence
(because thinking is ageing, and ageing is decay)
Because, you see.
You see.
It's all in what you cannot see, a séance;
and once unseen it will not be forgotten.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


It seems uncontentious to assert that tyranny makes people unhappy. More insightful, perhaps, was Kierkegaard's notion that too much freedom generates anxiety. From this it might be deduced (and often is deduced by people) that a via media is necessary; that a middle way between authoritarian and anarchistic value-structures will maximise our felicity. But it doesn't require too much thought to realise that too much mediocrity creates surer and more profound anxiety than either of the other two alternatives. Which all seems designed to hem humanity into misery. But not so; the trick is to uncouple happiness from notions of choice, option, compulsion or freedom altogether.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


Of course John Updike famously called America 'a vast conspiracy to make you happy'. One objection would be to retort 'happy in material terms only; America gives you the opportunity to shop yourself happy, and there's no true or lasting felicity there'. But this isn't it, I think. Religion is a much bigger deal in the States even than shopping; and religiously committed folk want to spread the bliss of Jesus around the population even more earnestly than car-dealers want to sell cars. It's hard to know how to resist this, except by saying, I prefer not to share in your happiness, and perhaps conspiracy to commit happiness upon other people ought to be a criminal offense. Which is how I choose to read the tenor of Updike's original statement.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Ancient Mariner at the Sermon on the Mount

There's an ancient Greek proverb, or saying, 'a socrpion for a perch' (anti perkees scorpion) that, the scholars tell us, found its way somehow into the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:9-10: 'Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?' I suppose, though, that we're entitled at least to wonder at the logic here. It's possible--isn't it?--to imagine a situation in which, though a son wants some bread, what he, and we, need is for him to finish laying that stone wall first; or in which the glass case he possesses is not watertight enough to serve as home for a fish, but with a few sticks and leaves would perfectly suit our gift to him of a snake. Of course, it's also possible to imagine son and father bickering ('I want a fish!' ... 'you'll take the snake and you'll like it!' ... 'never! a fish or nothing!' ... 'snake I say!') and the mother interceding, like the Ancient Mariner at the Sermon, with: 'here, a compromise: water-snakes.'

Monday, 19 November 2007

Thematically consistent day names

Sunday, Moonday, Starsday, Planetday, Cometday, Wayday, Skyday.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Ye, eye

The Chaucerian word for eye, 'ye', has a much more attractive look to it than our word 'eye'; and it is indeed strange to consider how the '[e]ye' homophone has shifted from you to I, given that the ye is instrinsically about looking at others, not about contemplating I-selfhood. Or are we to consider the possibility that this shift has coincidentally mirrored a change of emphasis from ocular objectivity to self-reflexive subjectivity? But that would be too large a coincidence.

Saturday, 17 November 2007


Do autumn trees shed their leaves with regret, or delight? Or do their leaves leave them? Have we got autumn all the wrong way about?

Friday, 16 November 2007


Rónán McDonald thinks the distinctive quality of Beckett's art is 'a pitiless urge to strip away, to expose, to deal in piths and essences.' It would be better to say that Beckett, in his coolly pitying manner, strips away in order not to expose 'piths and essences', but rather to reveal that there's no such thing as pith or essence. To say that the dismantling of the epiphenomena surrounding a man or woman, if taken far enough, eventually resolves men and women into--embodiments of nothingness.

Thursday, 15 November 2007


The sky has gone into mourning. The moon is sliced exactly in half, the nearest it can come to halfmast. A barcode of vertical creases and shadowlines codes something in the drawn curtains.

The dead are everywhere, he says. The great weight of the multitudinous dead bears down upon us. But this isn’t true, she says. The dead are nowhere, the dead have stopped existing. The living outnumber the dead in the same way that a million is bigger than zero.

Still, there’s almost no limit to the amount of suffering we can allow other people to bear.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


No tragedy except hope destroyed.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Landscape poem

This balance of nearing hedgerows
These uppity poplars, the
maiden tableau of these broad

fields, broad skies.
Clouds rollcalling for
the imminent solar curfew.

The landscape stoops.
Those birds move crabwise.
That wind makes them.

The wind is sky-coloured.
The camoflage is perfect.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Devil

Since despair is the greatest of sins, and since the Devil embodies the greatest sinfulness, it follows that the Devil must be the single most melancholic, depressed and gloom-wracked entity in the Christian cosmos. In the same way that an ordinary person may be simply too depressed even to get out of bed and go to work, so Satan is too depressed to get up out of hell and walk about the world.

Sunday, 11 November 2007


Sarcasm. From the Latin, which in turn is from the Greek: Lewis and Short:"Sarcasmos, m., a keen or bitter jest, a taunt, jibe, sarcasm, a figure of speech. Charis p.247 P (in Quint. 8, 6, 57) and Diom p.458, written as Greek." Derived from (to quote Liddell & Scott) "sarkisdo", 'to strip off the flesh, scrape it out'.

You can see why. But the etymological connection to flesh ('sarcophagus', a stone coffin which swallows flesh; or 'sarcoma' a fleshly tumour) is pretty interesting, and would be 'profound' if I adhered to that Nietzschean or Heideggerian faux-argument-by-etymology thing. We tend to think of sarcasm as an aggressive discursive tic, more or less deplorable for that reason. But (as per Civilisation and its Discontents) it's actually something the reverse, the manifestation of fleshly scar-tissue (hence: scarcasm), an idiom symptomatic of an organism under attack rather than initiating it. A verbal histamine response.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Believing in things

One of the many witty things that Chesterton is supposed to have said has acquired the status of an axiom. It's this: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes in anything."

Now, it turns out this isn't found in Chesterton's works, although there are a couple of quotations from the Father Brown stories that seem to constellate the notion: 'It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.' ['The Oracle of the Dog' (1923)]; 'You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief - of belief in almost anything.' ['The Miracle of Moon Crescent' (1924)]

So, not actually Chesterton (I'd like to think he was too clever to say anything so foolish), but regardless of that, this allegedly Chestertonian sentiment has acquired a life of its own. Don DeLillo's Mao II insists that 'when the Old God leaves the world what happens to all the unexpended faith? When the Old God goes they pray to flies and bottletops.' Martin Amis agrees, taking Chesterton's apocryphum to the next level: 'It is not that people will start believing in anything: they will start believing in everything.'

It's not just that this sentiment is wrongheaded (although it is spectacularly wrongheaded: it was, for instance, at the time of the widest spread of Christian belief in European that people believed any old nonsense at all: astrology, witchcraft, tales of men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, alchemy, the selling of papal indulgences, that pigs could meaningfully be tried in court on charges of murder, and so on). It's that it functions as one more example of a patricularly malign modern-day mental habit; making oneself comfortable with ridiculous or damaging views by telling oneself 'but the alternative is much worse!' It's a kind of credo-indolence; the more deplorable since it doesn't really take much energy to think through what the alternative probably does entail (not much energy, but the terrible risk that you might then have to abandon your starting position ...) An equivalent example: endorsing the war on terror not out of sadism or idiocy, but because you believe that without such a war Islam would make slaves of you and your daughters. How to counter such an attitude?--except by saying: don't be silly.

Friday, 9 November 2007


The sacredness of certain numbers, and not others, is a curious thing: 1 is holy, 3 is holy, 5 is holy, 7 is holy; 12 is holy ... a prime-heavy sequence. But why? What (we might ask) is wrong, or mundane, about those splendid numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10...?

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Return of the Repressed

Freud's insistence that the repressed always returns is more a statement of faith than an evidence-based assertion. But it is a good faith. It says: nothing stays secret for ever, you cannot bury anything permanently, your true nature will eventually emerge, that affair you had will eventually come to light, those memories you are distracting yourself from don't go away just because you are distracting yourself from them. This is a worthwhile ethos by which to live life. It is not true, though. Memories, it seems, are not only sometimes lost, the default position for memories is to lose them, or rather it is to overwrite the memories with simplified neural tags or thumbnail versions of the memory. We do this to stop our minds exploding, but it means that it is not repressed memory that always returns, but repressed desire (the desire that shaped the recasting of the memory in the first place). That sounds truer; short of neural-surgical intervention, repressed desire always does return ... it just doesn't necessarily return at the same strength.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Plan for a New Manner of Dictionary

As it might be:


tones, a word.

tonetics, a word.

tong, a word.

tonga, a word.

tonger, a word.

tongue, a word.

tongueless, a word.

tonic, a word.

tonier, a word.

tonight, a word.


... and so on.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The Dandy

From Baudelaire's Journaux Intimes [2:ii]: 'Le Dandy doit aspirer à être sublime sans interruption; il doit vivre et dormir devant un miroir.' Did Christopher Isherwood translate this? He did: 'the Dandy should aspire to be uninterruptedly sublime. he should live and sleep in front of a mirror.' True today, save for one alteration: for 'mirror' read 'the internet'.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Blue sky

The sky was a kind of famished blue, insufficiently dressed with a few stretches of muslin clouds.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The knight is ...

'The knight is the only piece able to leave the chessboard and return again to it ...' But this is wrong, on several levels. It's wrong in point of fact (rooks? Kings?), and in point of play (very often a player must pick up a bishop, say, in order to be able to trace out, in the air, the piece's diagonal between close set pieces and place it down again). But there's a more important point here. The knight piece is a stylised horse; its ability to 'leap over other pieces' is a function of a curiously literal approach to metaphorisation: it can leap over things because, in real life, horses can leap over things ... which is the same logic that prevents Gradgrind from papering his rooms with horsey wallpaper ('you wouldn't paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality - in fact? Do you?') In that sense the knight does not leave the chessboard; it is, indeed, more closely tied to the symbolic logic supposedly underpinning the chessboard than other, freer-flying pieces ... the rook itself; the all-powerful queen, or best of all the eight sphere-topped spires we call pawns.

Saturday, 3 November 2007


There's a rightness about the similarity between the sounds of applause and rainfall.

Friday, 2 November 2007


We have been in the habit of talking about nature versus nurture, but it's not a very good way of framing the question. Perhaps we should talk about essence versus sense.

Thursday, 1 November 2007


Questioning, as process, ought to be a process of detail, density, nuance and shrinkage.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007


This tug, some invisible fibre has grown into his flesh, or some fishhook latched there that yanks and yanks him along; or because there is a pressure inside him that hurries him on, a packed straining bladder, say, as you dash along the pavement eyeing every door for access to a toilet. The fidgets: the tapping feet, the fingers fumbling over his own face like a blind artlover apprehending sculpture as best he can; turning and folding and releasing his lower lip between finger and thumb; tugging his nose; rolling the flesh upon which his eyebrows grow and plucking hairs from it; pinching his own cheeks; rubbing the back of his neck, exploring the roots of his hair all the way back over his broad head. Nor would it be true to say that this is a pressure that never relents. Sometimes the impatience recedes. Sex, for instance, is a usually-reliable machine for transmuting fidgety impatience into temporary calm. He may even look at the ceiling, as the sweat cools on his skin and soaks into the Egyptian cotton, and realise that he is calm: almost a startling thing, almost a shock, excepting only that it figures as some sort of anti-shock, an discharge and decoupling.

And his head is so large, larger than a usual head. You'd think his head large enough to splinter the neck bones should it sag at a sudden angle. But his head, though bigger than average, is light; the wide brow and the wideset eyes that looked estranged from one another, the shallow-U chin that scintillates grey in the sunlight, the global curve of his cranium, all this is built upon a skull made of sinus-bone and aluminium. Because the head bounces, because the head bounces about on its neck, and is always in motion, and his expression is always mobile, and his smile comes and goes, and his broad brow wrinkles like a pond troubled by a sharp breeze and then untroubles itself and is again smooth. Why is he so impatient? It's the coffee, it's the nicotine, it's the deadlines my dear the deadlines, the so much to do, the such little time, the petty done, the undone vast, the sleep-when-I'm dead, or not even then, for he moves through this world as if rehearsing and rehearsing until it becomes second nature his repertoire of poltergeist shufflings and bangings and spectral fidgetings.

People say he is always in a hurry, and that's the least of it, hardly expresses the way impatience goes down into his bones, down into the restless iron inside the scrumhappy red flood of red-blood corpuscules, all the very way down into his galumphing great unresting endlessly fitting heart. He is walking, now, though he keeps his limbs oddly straight; and he illustrates perfectly the maxim that to walk is to coordinate a string of expertly interrupted fallings-forward.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Chaplin and Valentino versus Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor

Silent cinema gave its audiences less (no colour, no sound, less sophisticated codes of representation and so on). Therefore those audiences supplied more from their own psyches—and accordingly those stars assumed a potency and glamour and sheer fame no subsequent star has ever been able to manage. The more cinema offers its audiences, the less those audiences will care about cinema. That’s common sense.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Rothko poem

Lying in a midnight bed the
two blocks of curtain glimmer
on the left hand, on the right

a living Rothko, cyan-black
rectangled and haze-edged
against the black-black,

that painter of tombstones
of the opacity of doorways
the particoloured cataract,

the page, the two blocks of grey
shredded edges, merging white
smaller rectangle in larger, the page.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Golden Age

We're familiar with the idea that the golden age is lost, but we make the mistake of assuming that it is lost in the past. What if it is lost in the future? That wouldn't make it any easier to find, of course; in fact it would make it harder--to the point of impossibility.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Oblivion gets a bad press. Oblivion is not the same thing as obliteration.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

How strange the fate that has befallen "liberté, égalité, fraternité" ... the first portion of the slogan has been seized by the Right, the second by the Left and the third by Islam as a radical movement, like carrion animals fighting over the carcass of revolutionary ambition.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Maximum Grip

Merleau-Ponty said: 'Consciousnesses present themselves with the absurdity of a multiple solipcism, such is the situation which has to be understood.' But why not 'a solipsistic multiplicity'? Which is to say, the drawing of multiplicity to the notional point of singular view, rather than an expansion of singularity into fracturing multiplicity ...?

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Each after each the whales come up to the surface, and one after the other they eject each of them a mighty white feather of breath and planted in their backs.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007


We could extrapolate from, say, the great vowel shift to add extra increments, or perhaps precision, to the superlative:


('I'm going to reach the top--in fact I'm going to reach the type of the tap of the very tip of the top...') If that doesn't sound right, perhaps we could augment with a separate marker of superlative: toppermost, tippermost-toppermost, tappermost-tippermost-toppermost ...

Monday, 22 October 2007


Aphorism 55 of Beyond Good and Evil:

There is a great ladder of religious cruelty, and, of its many rungs, three are the most important. People used to make human sacrifices to their god, perhaps even sacrificing those they loved the best ... Then, during the moral epoch of humanity, people sacrificed the strongest instincts they had, their 'nature,' to their god; the joy of this particular festival shines in the cruel eyes of the ascetic, that enthusiastic piece of 'anti-nature.' Finally: what was left to be sacrificed? In the end, didn't people have to sacrifice all comfort and hope, everything holy or healing, any faith in hidden harmony or a future filled with justice and bliss? Didn't people have to sacrifice God himself and worship rocks, stupidity, gravity, fate, or nothingness out of sheer cruelty to themselves? To sacrifice God for nothingness — that paradoxical mystery of the final cruelty has been reserved for the race that is now approaching: by now we all know something about this.

As is often the case, Nietzsche is using 'finally' here ('...finally: what was left to be sacrificed?') ironically. Something does remain to be sacrificed, and indeed he is advocating precisely that sacrifice: he is, in other words, asking us to sacrifice sacrifice itself ... the ultimate sacrifice.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Water becomes bone

One of the Exeter Book riddles says: 'on the way, a miracle: water becomes bone.' Scholars agree that answer to this riddle is: ice.

But: climbing Cooper's Hill, and looking back at the curve of the Thames in the bright, cloudy light: the afternoon sun polishing away all grey or blue from the water until it is white, its edges sharpened by the angle of illumination, looking like nothing so much as a mighty rib-bone gleaming, set in the flesh of the land ... and I thought to myself yes, water becomes bone.

The answer ice identifies two points of similarity (hardness, colour) with bone; but my vision of the Thames identifies three (colour, shape, setting). Does that make it a 'better' answer to the Exeter Book riddle? 'Aha,' says the scholar, 'but your answer is over-ingenious.' And I think to myself: really? If ingenuity is really out of place in the discourse of riddling ... then where is it appropriate?

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Metaphor is ...

The extremes can be extended along their natural axes; but to extend something in the middle means pushing it along the z axis, into metaphor. That's what metaphor is, in a sense; this z axis poking three-dimensionally out at right angles to the 2D of ordinary signification. For example:

Too hot, too cold, is literal; but too tepid is metaphorical.
Too clever, too stupid ... too average.
Too expensive, too cheap ... too reasonably priced.

In each case the third term means in a different way to the first two items.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Kinds of life

Robert Nozick says: 'Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Taylor, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Merton, Yogi Berra, Allen Ginsberg, Harry Wolfson, Thoreau, Casey Stengel, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Picasso, Moses, Einstein, Hugh Hefner, Socrates, Henry Ford, Lenny Bruce, Baba Ram Dass, Gandhi, Sir Edmund Hillary, Raymond Lubitz, Buddha, Frank Sinatra, Columbus, Freud, Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, Baron Rothschild, Ted Williams, Thomas Edison, H.L. Mencken, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Ellison, Bobby Fischer, Emma Goldman, Peter Kropotkin, you, and your parents. Is there really one kind of life which is best for each of these people?'

One kind of life, indeed: which is to say precisely life, and maximal protection from pain, want and death. But, though it is what he says, Nozick doesn't actually mean 'life' here: her means 'modes of passing the time', 'ways of filling the day'. Which is important, but not the same thing as life.

Thursday, 18 October 2007


The sun, low, adding brunette and copper tints to the green of tree and meadow. Mist had moved its eraser in long horizontal strokes across the lawn and along the edges of the river. The sky was cautious of its light.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


A bald man says: 'oh! I have forgotten my hat!"

A bald man says: 'oh, I have forgotten my hair."

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Rewrite the Encyclopaedia

Umberto Eco’s understanding of the necessity of openness of critical inquiry to revision: ‘the cultivated person's first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopaedia’ [Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (1998)]. Actually there is a group of people who undertake to rewrite the encyclopedia along wholly new and unprepeared-for lines; they are called science fiction writers, and the activity is known as ‘worldbuilding’. This isn’t what Eco meant, more's the pity; it's what he should have meant.

Monday, 15 October 2007

A few hours a year ...

Descartes apparently said that one could only 'do' metaphysics for a few hours a year. What do we make, then, of our current academic philosophers, who 'do' philosophy for many hours every single day? Are they simply heroically strong, mentally speaking, in a way Descartes could not have comprehended? Or did Descartes mean something else by metaphysics, something so mentally debilitating that we have quietly sidelined in it modern intellectual discourse for fear of sapping our energies? Have we substituted some elaborate metaphorical sudoku game for the strenuous, enervating practice of genuine metaphysics?

Sunday, 14 October 2007


It's a strange notion, 'perfection', and doubly strange as an ideal ('be ye therefore perfect' and so on). If perfection is perceived as a negative ideal then such perfection becomes a sort of vacuum state (Northrop Frye: 'if this idea of "pure" perfection is pressed a little further it dissolves in negatives, as all abstract ideas do. God is infinite, inscrutable, incomprehensible, all negative words, and a negative communion with some undefined ineffability is its highest development'; [p.37]). Attempts to define perfection in positive terms (such that perfection implies being fully grown or mature) are similarly unconvincing. What's strange about positing perfection as an absolute is that it is a thoroughly dialectical piece of terminology: the perfection of my health is the imperfection of my disease; the perfection of my heart is the imperfection of my head and so on. We need to decode 'be ye therefore perfect' not as 'be ye complete', but be ye becoming--in fact, as be ye incomplete.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Father Time

Father Time declares: 'there are three types of crime ... the crime against the past, the crime against the present and the crime against the future. The last of these (murder, for instance) is the worst...'

Friday, 12 October 2007


Cave-ceilings trailing their shag
of stone jellyfish tentacles;
and the yearning stalagmites

bristling upwards, gorgonized
sound-baffles licking out reverb,
tubular silence: cold-wet,

the guts of stone hills, these,
the villi of the earth itself,
absorbing no nutrient but sound.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Maps for happiness

I'd underestimated what Wilde was saying about utopia ... famously in The Soul of Man Under Socialism he claimed that 'a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.' Without really thinking about it I'd assumed that last word was standing in for something like '...orienting themselves towards' or '...dreaming of reaching one day.' But, no, Wilde is clear: landing. Utopia needs to be included in our maps not so that we can set our bearings, but because we keep stumbling across it--and, presumably, keep stumbling on, leaving it behind.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The lonely person's craving for telepathic intimacy

"There are other people. That's good. I value my connection with them. But they are not present to me as intimately as I am to myself ... they're not in my mind the way I am--not under my skin. That's the Other than I crave; somebody closer to me than my own jugular vein ..." This is the mental state out of which God is created by some; or, more precisely, the mental state that renders some receptive to the penetrating revelation of divinity. The prophylactic against the deepest and least remediable of existential lonelinesses. The lonely person's craving for telepathic intimacy. I suppose that's why so many monotheistic religions seme, in their way, to stress the isolation, self-sufficiency and in effect loneliness of God himself; he feeds but is not fed, God who is one, not many, the solitary God.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


Conkers covered the ground, as if an artist had expended an unimaginable effort to reproduce in carved mahogany the immediate aftermath of a hailstorm.

Monday, 8 October 2007


So, what does the immediate future hold? By far the most straightforward way of answering this question is with a straightforward pessimism that goes something like this: our living is market-determined. Supply-and-demand means that if the supply of something exceeds demand its price goes down, where if demand exceeds supply the price goes up. There are, broadly speaking, three important quantities in the world; people, energy, raw materials. The supply of the latter two is diminishing and will continue to diminish; therefore raw materials and energy have been getting, and will continue to get, more expensive. On the other hand, human beings continue to breed, which is to say, the supply of people is increasing. Therefore the price of people (for instance, what we will be able to earn in wages) will continue to fall. In other words, the future will be more expensive to live in, whilst we, speaking generally, will have less money to pay for it.

Sunday, 7 October 2007


Anthony Storr described his attempt to psychoanalyse Ranulph Fiennes as 'like stirring the void with a teaspoon'. It's one of the single most eloquent phrases I have heard all year--doesn't all psychoanalysis perform this manoeuvre, with different varieties of spoon? (For that matter, doesn't physics? Philosophy?) And who is to say that such an activity isn't revealing? It may tell us little about the void, but it gives valuable information about the spoon, and most of all about the stirrer.

Saturday, 6 October 2007


A human face, like a coin, has only two sides. An animal face, like a cliff, only one.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Escape into madness ...

At the end of Bend Sinister Nabokov suggests that his trapped protagonist, with no other modes of escaping the tyrannous cruelty of the powerful dictator Paduk, can by losing his wits rob the villainous of his triumph. In other words, Nabokov is arguing that madness can be a happy release, an escape from the pain of the world. But whatever else madness involves, it never involves happiness; it always entails, to one degree or another, anxiety, distress, angst, fear and misery. What Nabokov needed to do was give Adam Krug a lobotomy instead ... but he wouldn't have done that; that would have been destroying Kurg's wits, not pushing them through a knight's-move on the chessboard of consciousness. Which is a flaw in the otherwise flawness novel, I think: an inability to renounce at the point where renunciation is required; a sentimental attachment to thought itself.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

First chorus from Euripides' Phaethon

Already the fresh-appearing
Dawn is riding over the world,
and above our heads the
Pleiades’ choir has fled away.
Nightingales in the trees delicately
..... chorus their songs,
woken at sunrise and grieving for
Itys, Itys the much-lamented.

The flutes of mountain-wandering
drovers accompany their tending of flocks.
Workhorses go to pasture,
chestnut-coloured, led by their grooms.
Already off to work with dogs at their heels
..... go huntsmen, to kill their prey.
Swans on the stream of Ocean are
sweetly-sounding their songs.

Small boats are moved out by oar
and by the wind’s favouring liveliness.
After they raise their sails the sailors
cry out “Bring to us, O Mistress Breeze,
smooth-passing guidance, and
..... a hushing wind
a way to our children and our loved wives!”
and the middle of the canvas closes on the forestay.

All this is other people’s business;
the honour of singing at my master’s wedding
is my own right, and so I hope
to hymn this: good times coming for our lords—
these bring confidence and happiness
..... to slaves and to their singing.
But if ever something is born to a fate that is
heavy, heavy fear comes down on the house.

Today is singled-out for celebrating marriage,
a day I have long prayed for,
and I come forward now to sing a wedding hymn
sweetly for my sweet masters.
..... God has willed it, time brought it to pass,
this marriage for my masters.
Let the singing celebration begin!

[From Euripides' fragmentary tragedy Phaethon; text taken from Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays (Aris and Phillips 1995) ed. C. Collard, M.J. Cropp and K.H. Lee.]

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


The mountains tuck their tips
Into the pleats of the clouds.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Out of love ...

‘Out of love, God becomes man. He says: "See, here is what it is to be a human being."' (Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, p. 161) It’s always struck me as a little unfair, this; which is to say that God has an unfair advantage when it comes to being a human. In other words, when religion commends us to the good life it’s as if Christ is addressing us: ‘you’re finding it hard to live a virtuous, ideal life? Well, I managed it!’ To which we might very well reply, but you’re God; it’s easy for you--easy, at least, relative to the way it is for us. As if a grown-up were to join a football game where all the other players were 5-year-olds, score dozens of goals and then say ‘but why do you say scoring goals is so hard?’

Monday, 1 October 2007

Human varieties of truth

Charles Pierce said: “Every man is fully satisfied that there is such a thing as truth, or he would not ask any question” [Collected Papers V: 211]. Of course, what men (and women) hope for from their questions is ‘an answer that pleases me’: but actually, when you come to think about it, that’s not a bad definition of truth, in its human sense.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Badiou's ethics of truth

The problem with an ethics of fidelity (Badiou's truth) is that fidelity itself becomes the point of it--that 'remaining true' becomes more important than acting in this way or that way. In other words, loyalty tends to trump judgment. The British soldiers who undertook the distasteful work of slaughtering Indians in 1857, or the Germans who slaughtered Jews in the 1940s, were being true to their duty; a woman who stays with an abusive husband is 'being true to him' or 'to love'; a woman who submits to genital mutilation is 'being true' to her culture and identity. This sort of loyalty is obviously wrongheaded; but it's hard to see, in Badiou's scheme, how to challenge it. Badiou's ethics posits Bill Sikes's dog as the model for 'how to act'.

Saturday, 29 September 2007


'He went public' -- as if publicity were a place ...

Friday, 28 September 2007

Love your neighbour

Love your neighbour as yourself is a carte blanche for the self-hateful and parasuicidal to maim and kill those around them ... the very people, of course, who (under various degrees of self-repression and self-awareness) make up most of the world's secret police forces, private armies, unofficial and official mafias.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Six six-word stories

Your eyes are lovely. With wasabi.

‘The sky’s falling!’ ‘Don’t be stu—’

One of these words is poisoned.

A headless man? How last-century!

The one law of robotics. Kill!

The French for six is cease.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

On hypocrisy

“What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.” Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963), ch. 2 .

But, as Freud points out in Civilisation and its Discontents, hypocrisy is correlative with civilisation; all of us who live in the polis are hypocrites in this sense. It’s as if Arendt has lighted upon her own formulation of the idea of original sin

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

'It's not enough ...'

To say 'it's not enough to be in love' is to call into question concepts of sufficiency (and satiety), not concepts of love ...

Monday, 24 September 2007


Medieval mementi mori represented death and physical corruption as a process of dessication: a turning into dust, ‘ashes to ashes’, ‘from dust you art and to dust you shall return’ and so on. But modern life sees bodily matter (witness ten thousand horror flicks, and the expert special-effect representation of the abjection of decay) as a wet thing. The flesh, dry and clean, has become our flesh, sodden and rotten and revolting.

I wonder if this isn't a symptom of a broader cultural evolution, a shift from discourses of dryness to ones of wetness. Smoking goes out of fashion and drinking comes in; we go from dystopic future-visions of desert landscapes and dried-out ruined city husks to dystopic future-visions of devastating flood.

What gives? Don't we feel dry anymore? Have our whistles been too thoroughly wetted?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Strong Truth

'Truth is fragile', Adorno says in the Negative Dialectics (its temporality makes it so, he thinks). But implicit in the observation is a desire that things were otherwise, a yearning for truth to be strong. Why, though? Why should strength be the criterion? (Why not usefulness? helpfulness? beauty?) What if the strength we wish truth to possess belongs not to warrior who will fight our corner, but a monster who will devour us? Say, for the sake of example, the truth is that our existences are contemptible and irrelevant, that death is the end, that nothing matters, that love does not prevail and goodness counts for nothing--if that truth were strong enough, it would crush us utterly. Be thankful, then, that such a truth is weaker than our capacity to imagine a better state of affairs.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


'To be able to speak the langauge of birds!' Ah! To be able to talk of--worms ... to be able to scare others from one's territory and to attract a mate. To coo over eggs. To squawk with fright. But wait, I already have a language in which I am able to do all that. It is called English.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Pont poem

The river is parched.
The water has rolled itself up
Into a great many round boulders

As a roomful of vapour distils
Into droplets on the glass.

The bridge arches its many eyebrows in surprise.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

The size of childhood

Adults misunderstand the experience of childhood. We inevitably think of it as a smaller time, a comfortable restriction, hemmed about by family and schools, rules and play; a model-existence; a jewel mode of living. Smaller bodies, smaller anxieties. But of course the child's perspective is nothing so manageable--it looms, terrifying and huge and open-ended ...

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


The trees drop their leaves, and the wind mocks them by blowing them right back up again.

The year says 'there is no time.' Something that radiates from the clockwork centre of the year, and I have always assumed that 'there is no time' doesn't mean 'there's no such thing as time.' But then again--(then? again?)

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Write what you know

Write what you know, they say. But how can you know what you know until you write it?

Monday, 17 September 2007


When Agamben talks about homo sacer (in interviews and such) he often reverts to the figure of the prisoner. If the state of exception is the determining socio-political environment for homo sacer, then prisons are the clearest manifestation of the state of exception. So, for example, he says: “we can no longer differentiate between what is private and what public … both sides of the classical opposition appear to be losing their reality. And the detention camp at Guantánamo is the locus par excellence of this impossibility. The state of exception consists, not least, in the neutralization of this distinction. ”

Andonis Tsonis says:

A most striking space where we can locate this phenomenon is the prison camp. Inside the prison camp, law and punishment, zoe [ie Agamben's 'biological life'] and bios [political life], and exclusion and inclusion indeed enter a zone of indistinction. The prison camp is that tangible space where law has everywhere suspended itself in favour of the exception.

But there’s something peculiar about this. The economics of it is all screwy. The comparison between the Nazi death camps and Guantánamo, whilst manifesting an attractive polemical thrust, is inexact: the death camps were, mostly, labour camps, where prisoners were worked—to death, some of them, or until such time as they could be murdered. This work was economically productive for the oppressive regime. Prisons in the US or UK, on the other hand, are unproductive and enormously expensive—it costs less to send a boy to Eton for a year than to hold a man in custody in a UK prison. If prisoners truly existed in a state of exception, wouldn’t the power that holds them make the most of their imprisonment, on its own terms? Force them to labour, or else simply exterminate them to keep their costs down? In fact, if somebody dies in prison it costs the government much more, in time and money, than it does if (say) a homeless person freezes to death, unnoticed, in the street.

The answer, I suspect, is that labour itself has undergone a paradigm shift. The Nazi Death Camps were, whilst they operated, kept secret; but the whole point of Guantánamo is display. The only reason we don't have a 24-webcam feed from the camp is that, by invoking the rubric of secrecy, the powers-that-be understand that they act to increase interest in the place. Nevertheless, its inmates work for the US government as performers, acting out for the world’s gaze (whether approving or—much more commonly—outraged) US power, as a deterrent, and US carelessness of world opinion, as a signifier of strength. But that's not exceptional; that's vanilla flavour alpha-male social interaction. That's the norm.

Sunday, 16 September 2007


It is easy to mistake self-repression for sensuality.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Saccharine and blindness

Sometimes, without giving up your committment to civilisation, 'sweetness and light' is the very opposite of what you want ...

Friday, 14 September 2007

We are not travelling

We think we are travelling out there, boldly going to a final frontier; actually we are always returning home, and the final frontiers are those which defines our existences (birth, death, and the process of conceptualisation in-between) rather than any external architecture of the universe. Stories tend to tell us things about ourselves; why else would we be interested in them?

Thursday, 13 September 2007


There are bound to be people who will talk about 'the problem of race', in the same way that people might, say, talk of 'the problem of phlogiston'.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The world

The world is simple. Behind the world is not simple.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Conceptual Breakthrough

I shall still you, motionless as stone in sheerest wonder,
I shall beat upon your mind, and break it all in sunder.

Monday, 10 September 2007


Daniel Dennett puts it nicely when he says that ‘the chief beauty of the Darwinian theory is its elimination of Mind from the account of biological origins.’ We could take this further, and explore the extent to which aesthetics as a whole, and particularly the apprehension of the beautiful, depends upon the extent to which mind in this sense can be eliminated ...

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Birds poem

Boards, blue-feathery
vegetative plumage, the sugar
beach and blue seagrass and

these top-heavy saurian fowl,
the glitchers, the oil-eyed,
polyphonic song and sunflames

like stalks, these possess
the finesse to leave it all behind.
That authenticated quotation

about migrating birds, the
stork in heaven knoweth
the time of their coming

is not, that’s to, not it, aw,
at all, awe, aw, stalk-legs, and
zipper-feathers adhering each

to each and sand-coloured timber
shaped and planed to curves
fitted together as the set.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Dreams I Can't Make Sense Of

Striking that it is usually so hard to make sense of dreams, given that they are, so we are told, the means by which the brain sorts through and generally makes sense of the multifarious events of the day. As if the process of making sense of reality necessarily involves the translation of that reality into opacity and confusion.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The lightning strike

And the crooked neon path it tracks from up to down bristles with wires of light spoking in every direction. And you realise that lightning does not, it truth, look like a zigzag; that it looks more like a vast shining snowflake. Some snowfall, this. Some charged and cataclysmic snowfall.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


One way of reading the modern world is to see in it an enormous expansion of Freud's taboo--as a contemporary category, and as the root-term behind a range of items of discourse absolutely central to the modern world: pollution in its presentday environmental sense; transgression, particularly the legal and sexual transgressions that occupy the media so hugely; and totem, which is to say icon--commodity--celebrity. Indeed, it could be argued that science, rather than reducing the power of taboo by dispersing the cloud of unknowing that surrounds its magical rationale, has actually reinforced taboo. Science has shown us that we are indeed surrounded by invisible (strictly, microscopic) forces and agencies, viruses, germs, poisons, toxins, as well as many other invisible (strictly, psychological) occasions for stress, trauma and so on ... all these are gifted a reality that was by definition lacking from the earlier 'magical' or 'influencing' taboo objects. By 'by definition' I mean two things: one the obvious point that taboo previously was a symbolic rather than real action (there's nothing really wrong with eating pork, or with handling a dead body, although there may be something symbolically wrong with these things). But I also mean that, being magical, taboo formerly depended upon a degree of lack of clarity in its operation. That's changed now. There's reason, now, in the category of the taboo. That's an alarming thing.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Contents Page for an Imaginary Collection of Poems

The Strength of an Arm
Two Poems ('Rust on Guitar Strings', 'Specks of Hope on my Heart')
Escape by Tunnelling, Escape by Catapult
Chanting the Syllable ‘Oh’
The Word, ‘When’
Unoriginal Sin
Over I
Anagrams of Lovers Names
A Fable from Aesop
Over II
Over III
Hurrying Out the Library Doors
Points of Comparison: Books and Birds
The Wise Eschew The Path of Wisdom
In the Index, Right Column
Fictitious Cleanness
Author's Note

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


Chldren: nature's usury upon the investment of life, bless 'em.

Monday, 3 September 2007


Is it that we are tangled up in the roots? Or in the branches?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Avoiding angst

Let's say that the way to deal with ontological despair, with the mind-crushing inevitability of our personal and species extinctions, with the meaninglessnesses of existence, with the echoing horror and so forth, is simply not to think about it all too much. To put our mental energies into displacement activities; to let our eyes defocus just a bit and orient ourselves by the blur. Of course thinking too much is almost a three word definition of philosophy--pity the philosopher who thinks too little! But this does result, I suppose, in at the very least a professional conflict of interests.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Safari Park poem

The bears with humps of fur on their backs,
and canny, doggish faces peering
from the hoodies of their own bulk.

The thalidomide penguins.
The hippos flattening their fat
to beds of grey pondlily.

The earthenware rhino that could
have stood artist's model to Durer,
folded plates of skin, tentacular upper lip.

The elephant, trunk down, five-legged,
ears like gill flaps
an arse like baggy grey jodhpurs.

Peacocks with tail-feather eyes, like
no other kind of eye in nature
for size, or colour, or lidlessness, or shape.

Half-size fibre-glass models of lions
in the savanna would express a similar
ratio of unreality to the real

as these live animals in these false paddocks.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Car alarm

The car alarm made the noise of a dog whose tail had been trodden on. After its eighth or tenth iteration you really really began to wish that somebody would stop trampling on the damn dog ...

Thursday, 30 August 2007


Adam Phillips, in Terrors and Experts, says: 'Oedipus is so important in psychoanalysis because he does something that can be found out, something he can know about ...' [9] But it's not the doing, it's the desiring to do that's important psychoanalytically. Experiencing a desire, or orienting one's subjectivity along the lines of force of a desire, is hardly a doing ...

He goes on: 'the Oedipus plays would be a very different theatrical experience if everybody was walking around the stage completely baffled all the time (how would it end?)'

Well ... duh. How would it end? With death, of course. 'If everybody was baffled all the time'? The complexity and variety of critical responses to Sophocles shows that, in a deep sense, we are baffled; we have always been baffled; being baffled is kind of the point ...

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Girl's Pearl

Those dabs of brightness in the corners of the eyes and the mouth ... the appeal of Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring can be summed up, really, in one word: moist.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Free as a mole

We say 'free as a bird' because the bird has access to a dimension usually denied us. But we never say--for example--'free as a mole', although the same circumstances apply to the burrower. More, the burrower constructs the permanent archicecture of his own freedom as he tunnels, moves in any direction and is safer.

Monday, 27 August 2007

The aesthetic vacuum flask

Aesthetic insulation: the surrounding vacuum of ungainliness or ugliness that preserves the perfect aesthetic heat (or perfect chill) of the artwork itself.

Sunday, 26 August 2007


By day you may travel a thousand varied routes. To drive by night is always to drive the same road.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

The rough edges

It may be that an increasing professionalisation of writing, linked to increasing levels not only of functional literacy but semiotic and metacultural literacy, have resulted in cultural production that is much more technically finished, smoother and more polished than has ever existed before. But something is lost in this, as well as gained. A work such as--to pick an example--Macbeth, though it contains some of the very best writing in English, is rough-edged; it enacts a sort of violence upon literary texture and form. I don't mean this only in the obvious sense that the play is full of characters being violent to other characters, nor in the sense that many of its images are 'violent' or wrenching to convention. I mean something more: there's a powerful unfinished jaggedness in the weft and warp of the piece; a quality a writer can only achieve by forcing the writing at pressure, not spending too much time blotting the words. Something that articulates the necessarily rough-edged way experience presents itself to us; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the necessarily rough-edged way our sensoria access that experience.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Working-class Ariel

Auden said that there were two modes of poetry; that of Ariel, singing private, formal lyrics of 'self-delighting beauty'; and that of Prospero, who hopes to hand down improving moral truths. Auden thought that 'every poem shows some sign of a rivalry between Ariel and Prospero'.

But there's something upside-down in all this. Despite the fact that 'Ariel' has become a synonym for the fey and otherworldly, the fact is that in Shakespeare's play he's the one who does all the work. Prospero is the game-player, the self-satisfier, the patternist; Ariel is the one indentured to labour, who has actually to engage with the real world, to get his fairy fingers dirty.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Ex nihilo

There's a common-sense aspect to the notion that everything was created out of nothing. After all, when we look as the universe we see that it is mostly nothing, vacuum, emptiness, barrenness (if the sun were scaled down to the size of a golfball the earth would be a speck of dust smaller than the dots in this sentence a few metres away ... and the nearest star would be hundreds of kilometers further off). In other words, the somethingness of the cosmos is a kind of thin crust over a vast cauldron of nothingness. It might be better, rather than saying (for instance) God created the universe out of nothing, to say 'God scratched the edge of nothingness with a sparse culture of something'. Or it might be better to ask: 'If God created something out of nothing, then why did he do such an incomplete job?'

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Dream diary

Having decided to keep a dream diary, I wake with no memory of the night's dream. So I fabricate a likely-sounding dream, a confection of oddity and image and narrative, and this in turn leads me to wonder: how--both to what extent and by what means--can the conscious mind mimic the subconscious?

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The madman

The madman is not he who loses his reason, but he who commits wholeheartedly to one reason, in place of many reasons ....

Monday, 20 August 2007

Cloud poem

The little sea
horse shaped

riding the without
the coherence
the windshield.

It is a reflection of
internal light
in proximity

that moves as we move
like the moon does
like for like.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

The Droeshout engraving

The very thing that leads so many scholars and Shakespearianists to despise this portrait--it's cartoonishness--is the very thing that makes it so perfect a portrait of Shakespeare. Not that Shakespeare was cartoonish, exactly; but rather than this cartoony mode enables us to identify with the Shakespeare myth: namely that, whilst he is is of course a genius and far above us, he is at the same time, somehow, ordinary, usual, he is us. Jonathan Franzen has this to say about the appeal of cartoons:
Scott McCloud, in his cartoon treatise Understanding Comics, argues that the image you have of yourself when you’re conversing is very different from your image of the person you’re conversing with. Your interlocutor may produce universal smiles and universal frowns, and they may help you to identify with him emotionally, but he also has a particular nose and particular skin and particular hair that continually remind you that he’s an Other. The image you have of your own face, by contrast, is highly cartoonish. When you feel yourself smile, you imagine a cartoon of smiling, not the complete skin-and-nose-and-hair package. It’s precisely the simplicity and universality of faces, the absence of Otherly particulars, that invite us to love them as we love ourselves.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Voluble reticence

A voluble reticence can be more effective than conventional reticence; but it's surprisingly hard to do well, and surprisingly easy to mess-up. That sort of volubility is a rare skill.

Friday, 17 August 2007


What we call anger is usually self-incomprehension; a state of mind to which we can respond either passively, with melancholy, or actively, with rage. And yet the beginning of wisdom is always going to be the acceptance that comprehension of the self is, in the fullest sense, inevitably beyond us ...

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Love is ...

Love is a wonderful thing for a human to experience; a self- and other-validating thing; an exciting and pleasurable thing; and moreover (in terms of the successful transmission of genes) an immensely useful thing. Now, what might an alien civilisation that had no concept of love think, observing the way we elevate Love to transcendental, cosmic and godly proportions? Might they not think that this is a little self-regarding? A little peculiar? As if because I enjoy eating beefsteaks, and because beefstakes serve the useful purpose of keeping me alive, I therefore declared that the universe is beefstake, God a beefstake and beefstake the universal core value of everything?

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Sexuality in plain view

People sometimes talk about homosexuality as a secret hidden in plain view, such that when it is mooted that Kipling (say) was gay, the revelation is supposed to go something like: "aha! now that this secret fact about him is revealed, we can see that it entirely explains his behaviour, his manners, his art--that indeed all his writing is plainly and evidently that of a gay man ..." But the most we can say about sexuality in plain view is that it is a kind of failure -- it is the dynamic of concealment and revelation that is crucial to sexuality.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Monday, 13 August 2007


These clouds look as if painted upon a vast transparency that is being slid slowly from left to right along the backrail of the horizon.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Le cauchemar

Nightmare is a psychological auto-immune response; or perhaps a psychological auto-immune malfunction ...

Saturday, 11 August 2007


Any society that includes slavery cannot be described as 'sensitive'. It is only possible for human beings to permit the slavery of others if they do not empathise with their slaves--for once you put yourself, seriously, for the long haul (not, that is to say, only for fleeting periods of sentimental or erotic fancy) in the position of a slave then of course you see how insupportable it is. On the other hand, the benefits of slavery to the slaveholder are obvious enough--the freedom from labour, the exercise of power-- that it doesn't take too much shrinkage of a human's natural sensitivity to reduce it to a level where you don't empathise with those you oppress. And any culture as a whole that accepts slavery is necessarily insensitive: is therefore automatically capable of, say, slaughtering the entire male population of a city with which it is at war, and selling the women and children into servitude. So when Nietzsche talks of the ancient Greeks as 'a race so sensitive ... so uniquely capable of suffering' it is more than usually baffling. But then it occurs to us: The Birth of Tragedy is not actually about Ancient Greece, and he is not describing the Greeks when he talks about their extraordinary sensitivity. He is talking about himself.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The phobosopher

Since love so often involves distortingly rose-tinted glasses, and since wisdom is most often best served by a properly dialectical-antithetical hostility, it is necessary to be the opposite of a philosopher: a phobosopher.

Thursday, 9 August 2007


The voice is a needle,
And the needle is a tower.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


"Two hundred years before the birth of Christ the Chinese of the Han Dynasty demanded that their courtiers address their emperors only when their breath had been sweetened with a mouthful of Javanese cloves ..." Why has nobody written a cultural history of that most most essential topic, bad breath?

For instance it'es interesting that breath in this context is defined in terms of otherness, not of oneself (nobody ever described asthma as bad breath: I wonder why not?). The mingling of spirit, hygeine and fit, inner and outer purity, all voice and intimacy all contained within this boundary. One day I'll do it, maybe.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


I do tend to lack patience; that supposed virtue. I am impatient; Is that a fault? Why do not the moribund and terminally self-satisfied not say: I lack impatience; I am unimpatient ...? It certainly seems to be the case with me that I, at least, am not unimpatient.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Some descriptions of southern European landscape

  • The sun gobbles as the sky, ferociously bright and hot. The hungry sun, the lean and muscular sun.
  • This tree is seven storeys tall. The detail of its million leaves would baffle any engraver.
  • Dust blowzes over the road in spectral tan-coloured folds.
  • The epilecting sunlight between and behind trees.
  • The sky the colour in which seas and oceans are printed in atlases.
  • The quality of shadow, rolled out slowly from this prone log by the sun, by the yard, for your inspection.
  • Mountains tuck their tips into the pleats of the clouds.

Sunday, 5 August 2007


The celebrated Baudrillard quotation: God as the guarantor of 'the depth of meaning', the exchangeability of signification for significance. "But what if God himself can be simulated? That is to say, reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum." It bothers me that he says "weightless" there, instead of "massless". It bothers me a surprising amount. Presumably he doesn't mean "massless". Presumably he means "weightless". But it's a question. It is grave. It possesses gravity.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Heroic pity

Nietzsche again. I'm sure I'm very far from being the first reader of Nietzsche to be struck by the strange weighting of his anti-pity position. From Der Antichrist [7]:

Pity stands in the antithesis of the tonic emotions which enhance the feeling of life: it has a depressive effect ... pity on the whole thwarts the law of evolution, which is the law of selection. It preserves what is ripe for destruction; it defends life's disinherited and condemned; through the abundance of the ill-constituted of all kinds which it retains in life it gives life a gloomy and questionable aspect.

The thing to do here is not to deny Nietzsche's premises, or to dissent from his anti-Christian perpsective; but rather to wonder how this position squares with the philosophy of heroism he is advancing. Pity here is deplored because it contradicts 'the law of evolution'. There is a misunderstanding of the way evolution works here, I think, but never mind that for a moment. Instead wonder: in what way is it the action of the noble, the elite, the best (" every noble morality it counts as a weakness...") thuswise timidly to accede in this evolutionary law? Is it not nobler to defy nature, whether or not such defiance is materially productive or not? To say, in heroic tones, "nature demands this hecatomb of the weak; but I chooose not to supply it"?

It may be possible to work out what I'm reading on holiday, right now.

Friday, 3 August 2007

The wind blowing

A breeze, or a gale, is merely particles in motion. This, after all, is what a wind is. But when we look at it from this perspective we see that existence as a whole is a wind. The big bang was a great stormwind blowing, and our cosmos is made from the eddies and tourbillons it has generated.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

We Hyperboreans ...

The Hyperboreans were supposed to live 'beyond the north wind' ... usually imagined as a chilly windswept place (Hull, say). But beyond the north wind must mean that we've left the winds far behind us ... it really ought to be a place of unnatural calm.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Science and tragedy

In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche characterises "science" as "a subtle form of self-defence against -- the truth". The learned Nietzscheans remind us that he means Wissenschaft here, not "what we generally understand by the word science" ... as if there's any general understanding of the word science!

So what is Nietzsche getting at here? For him, "the tuth" is the glimpse into the abyss, the glimpse that kills action; and actually by "science" he doesn't mean anything other than keeping busy (inquiring and experimenting and looking through telescopes and so on) as a means of distracting us from that glimpse. But I can't help feeling that science is a bad word for this sort of busy-ness; and that Wissenschaft is no better. Sometimes science busies you, true; but by no means always. A better word for 'busy-ness' is capitalism; and few inventions of man have been better at distraction than the consumerist production-consumption merry-go-round. Perhaps it would be better to rephrase Nietzsche, replacing "science" with "consumer capitalism"? That would at least invoke one pleasing irony, since many thinkers see capitalism precisely as contemporary tragedy ...

As for those who object to the paradox in Nietzsche's phrase ("science is a subtle form of self-defence against the truth") on the grounds that science and the truth are actually versions of the same thing ... well, "self-defence" records what happens when one power invades and overtakes another so as to render it identical. Science is a form of immune-system response; or it is the French Resistance trying to prevent the Nazis making Germany and France the same thing.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007


Is there any god, in any religion in the world, who says in effect: "I need you, mortal"? (Let's say: "I need followers, I need worshippers, I need you to act a certain way ... I'm needy ...") This does tell us something important about the nature of religion: that need is the logic of the cosmos, and that religion cannot be honest about that ...

Monday, 30 July 2007

A worry

A worry: that I will lose the ability not to say.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Moon poem

You, pebble moon,
set in
the wide black beach, the sky.

How to comprehend
the tide
that washed you up so high.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Absolute zero

Let's say that, just as greater or lesser temperature is the state in which the particles of matter are in greater or lesser motion, so absolute zero is that state when the particles are quite motionless. There can't be less motion than no motion, and so there couldn't be a lower temperature than absolute zero. But what if those motionless particles were to shrink, each on its centre, each away from the other? Wouldn't the effect be a reduction in the temperature to a state below absolute zero? What, I wonder, would that look like?

Friday, 27 July 2007


We're always waiting. It is only that sometimes we are distracted from the fact and temporarily forget it. Nor are we waiting for anything: neither anything in life, nor dying. We're simply waiting.

Thursday, 26 July 2007


Irrigate your curiosity.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Mushrooms poem

A pilgrimage of mushrooms
lined on the lawn
oldest at the front
a spongey knuckle, youngsters
behind like a trail of droppings

snapshotted going.

Wither? That's all their wisdom,
to pass from rot
to newer, better rottenness,
it's the very gulp of truth:
every mushroom a syllable

and in line, spondees.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007


Our sense of individual decency is always greater than our individual sense of death.

Monday, 23 July 2007


Changes are always about to happen, and always have just already happened. This is more than saying that there's no way to the future or the past except through the gateway labelled 'change' (though that's true); it's noting that there's no such thing as 'now' except in the sense of the changeless self-identity of now-on-now.

Sunday, 22 July 2007


"I'm terrible at lying ..." a friend said. "When I lie it's painfully obvious to everyone." Isn't this a strange way of putting it? It wouldn't occur to him to boast about his truthfulness ...

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The 'power' of memory

Some reviewerish boilerplate, from Jane Yeh in this week's TLS:

... should appeal to a wide readership, given the universal scope of its themes--family tensions, and the adult author's changing relationship to her parents, the power of memory ...

But why do we talk of the power of memory? Surely all our experience leads us to the consideration of the weakness of memory. This is not just a question of the feebleness of our powers of recall (the necessary, non-Funes weakness), or the way memory is a sixty-pound weakling compared to the muscular shaping requirements of our preconceptions, our repressive superegos and so on. It is to challenge the idea that simply recalling something is 'powerful' in its own right: as if we're sitting in the cinema of our minds in 1890 and are amazed simply by virtue of the fact that anything is projected on the screen at all. It betrays, I suppose, a tacit belief that memory ought not to be able to move us, to influence our present; that we ought to live in a sort of unfettered continuous present. Or maybe it's a simple misprison: for memory read the past. Two things almost wholly unrelated, however often they're confused.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Cost and price

There's a principle whereby if a thing costs more to make it costs more to buy, and, conversely, if it costs less to make it's cheaper. But not for films: we pay the same ticket price to see The Blair Witch Project as to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. That's hardly fair. Ticket prices should be adjusted to cost; 20p to see the first of these two films, £200 to see the second. That would act as a very desirable break upon the ridiculous indulgence of contemporary film-makers.

Thursday, 19 July 2007


Sand is a form of rock. Water is a form of ice. Books are a form of literature. People are a form of thinking.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

"If I were called in to construct a religion..."

"...I should make use of water." It has only recently occurred to me how wonderfully ironic it is that Larkin, of all poets--drink-sodden Larkin--should write a poem about the transcendental qualities of water. You'd picture him, rather, taking W C Fields' perspective on that liquid. Perhaps the whole poem is a carefully considered irony.

""If I were called in to construct a religion I should make use of alcohol; Bacchus my god, and boozy transports my ascension."

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Shocking pink

Shocking is an interesting qualifier; because one thing colour cannot do is shock in the way electricity or collision can. Extremities of touch (as with a blow), of taste (chilli, acid), of smell (sal volatile), of sound (earsplitting din, the Panic shout) ... all of these can, of course, be literally intolerable. As for sight, well the photoreceptive layer of the retina is divided into rods and cones. Rods are easily overstimulated by illumination--the intense glare of light that blinds--but cones, responsible for colour vision, do not seem to work this way. In a normal eye, there is no intensity of colour (as opposed to of brightness) that is actively painful, or intolerable, after the fashion of these other things. Since colour is indeed perceived in terms of varying intensities, it is very strange that the intensity doesn't seem to have an upper level.

Is this the only portion of the human sensorium that works this way?

Monday, 16 July 2007

Functionally anosmic

Blind and numb, deaf and dumb, these are amongst the commonest of signifiers. To lose our sense of sight, or hearing, or communication, or to become leprous or stricken, are fears most people have experienced. But challenged in the street I'd bet not one person in ten could put a name to the condition of lack of a sense of smell.

As it happens, I am functionally anosmic. Of course, this does not incommode me as much as losing sight or hearing would; but it is no very pleasant thing for all that, and I'm curious as to why it has so low a profile in the world as a whole as to be, effectively, nameless (why should anosmia be anomic?) I wonder if there isn't a degree, even, of wish-fulfillment in this: smell is how hairy beasts navigate their world; by excising smell from my sensorium I move symbolically away from the bestial and towards an existence of pure mentition. That's is a spurious and even rather stupid rationale, of course; but I wonder if it isn't part of the explanation. We have words for blindness and deafness because we fear becoming blind and deaf; as to losing our sense of smell ... well we don't feel too strongly about the matter, and if anything it is probably a beneficient development rather than anything else.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Saturday afternoon at Cliveden

Carp crowd the pond.
One fin unzips the surface of the water.

The sky is an eighteenth-century blue.
A white cloud shaped like a periwig
Is manoeuvred into place above a cypress tree.

Saturday, 14 July 2007


There is, of course, no such thing as miscegenation ... what logic says 'a black father and a white mother produces a child half-black and half-white'? (Might as well say 'a male father and a female mother produces a child half-male and half-female'). Race is no realer than gender.

Friday, 13 July 2007


The task of the writer? Why, to bracket the impossible with the possible, of course.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Death says

Death says: 'it's not the gathering up of lives that is my joy; what I gather, and what I love, is the look of surprise on people's faces. That is my addiction'.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Tell us what to do! Don't tell me what to do!

Obviously we don't want to be told what to do ... we want freedom. Equally obviously, we don't want to be cast adrift ... we want guidance, leadership.

A properly dialectial psychoanalysis would say: not that we want to be told what to do some of the time and left to our devices at others--nor that we want a sort of middle-ground between the two positions--but rather that we want both of these extremes at the same time and all the time.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


The pterodactyl quality of umbrellas ...

Monday, 9 July 2007

Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest

Presumably Gray means that country graveyards are full of inidviduals who, but for the vagaries of chance, might have had careers as famous as Milton's. But then again perhaps he knew exactly what he was saying: that Milton minus his voice and his glory is not Milton in any meaningful sense. Or more specifically, on those terms we're all Milton.

Sunday, 8 July 2007


Here, the sky is angry.

Saturday, 7 July 2007


The part of 'hard-on' that people get fixated with is the hard part; but what interests me about 'hard-on', qua phrase, is the on part; as if an erection is something we wear, something we drawn onto our otherwise inherently soft flesh. An erection, in other words, is the adoption of a localised exoskeleton, not a stiffening from the inside out but rather a strapping on of external armour.

Friday, 6 July 2007


There's a ghost in phones.

Once, when phones were tethered to walls and booths, those ghostly diembodied voices haunted them as a spectre haunts a house, or a graveyard, or some specific place. Now that phones have been untethered to sweep freeform and spirographic trajectories through the world, those spectres have been loosed. Now the place they haunt is everyplace.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Religion and memory

Immediate or strictly contemporaneous religions (Scientology, say) seem absurd to us, even though the miracles they declare are no more intrinsically risible than those of Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. But this must be so, because religious belief works as memory, not as to-hand experience … or at least not as this latter for most people (ecstatics and schizophrenics excepted, I mean). As is the case with our memory, many details are omitted, and many contradictions and infelicities reworked into more-than-truly-contiguous narratives. Like memory, religion doesn’t always or even particularly intrude on everyday living—it requires a will-to-contemplation to evoke it, actually, although a properly functioning religion is bound to provide copious aides-memoires (liturgy, ceremony and so on) to help in this respect. Consulting family photographs, after all, has a liturgical aspect to it.

The memory-gravity of religion means that those portions of religious practice or thought that have a significant future component end up doing that strange thing of construing future apocalypse as memory … the odd past-oriented backwardness of St John’s revealed future, for instance.

The more I think about it, the more it strikes me that this is one of the things that science fiction has in common with religion.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Open-heart surgery

The scalpel that had made his chest
Into an open-cast quarry
Mined the word-seam in his breast:
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

White Cloud, Dark Blue Sky

I saw three little clouds, bright white clods, against a sky so deeply blue it looked almost purple. I looked again: the white clouds were standing out, in relief, not against a sky but against a huge purple raincloud of such size and uniformity of colour it looked like the sky. That feeling, in the middle of your torso, when your senses shift about ...

Monday, 2 July 2007

The beast Imagination

The beast Hope is much more easily domesticated than the beast Imagination.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

The Witch Speaks

You think I like my familiar? By no means, no; it is wicked, perverse, dangerous. But it's my familiar. You don't choose your family; all that you do is find ways not to reject your family. I don't like my familiar, but I love it.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

The locomotive

The black unfaced locomotive doing endless pressups with its greased wheel-pistons.

The steam-locomotive, dark-faced with effort, was repeatedly punching the ground and repeatedly missing, as if the ground were a masculine friend with whom it was playing mock-pugilistic games.

Friday, 29 June 2007

The brain

We might say ‘my brain produces consciousness’ (let's say it generates consciousness; or let's say it defecates or excretes consciousness). On the other hand, we might, if we are religiously inclined, prefer to say ‘my brain receives or transmits or channels consciousness’. But I wonder if it mightn't be closer to the truth to say ‘my brain consumes consciousness’ ... as a candle burns wax, or an animal devours its food.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Whole numbers

I'm imagining a world in which fractions decimals are taboo; whole numbers divided into whole numbers are holy--whole sight (as a modern-day fundamentalist once put it) or all the rest is desolation. Even numbers are good. Duodecimals constitute the monetary system. But how to halve odd numbers? The answer is clear enough: the unacceptable 'and a half' becomes the acceptable euphemastic 'and some'. 'And some' covers all fractions; and human sensibilties need never be offended by the frayed-edges of broken numbers ever again.

The theological issue of the day; is pi a whole number, or not?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


We seem happy enough to countenance the death of our inner organs--our smokey lungs, our drink-scratched livers--provided only that this death does not manifest itself on our outsides. Perhaps we consider that landscape of viscera and darkness, that inward landscape, to be already, in a sense, dead; life happens at the level of skin, of face, of secondary sexual characteristics, of hands, of appearance, of that endless convulted surface called brain.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

This unhappy consciousness

Hegel thought that the root of das ungluckliches Bewusstsein was internal division. Here is what he says:

This unhappy consciousness, divided and at variance within itself, must, because this contradiction of its essential nature is felt to be a single consciousness, always have in the one consciousness the other also; and thus must be straightway driven out of each in turn, when it thinks it has therein attained to the victory and rest of unity. Its true return into itself, or reconciliation with itself, will, however, display the notion of mind endowed with a life and existence of its own, because it implicitly involves the fact that, while being an undivided consciousness, it is a double-consciousness. It is itself the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its own essence; but objectively and consciously it is not yet this essence itself — is not yet the unity of both.

The terminology here is always alert to the possibility of undoing this internal separation--'return or reconciliation' as Hegel puts it--as if the severance is no differend, but that between two rational agents who have, unaccountably, fallen out. But this isn't our experience, of course. It's the unified consciousness that is the unhappy one: the monomaniac, the man or woman of fundamentalist faith and Dalek-eyed certainty, the obsessive. Their consciousness is unhappy; they're just too myopic to realise it. Or perhaps a better way of putting it would be that, like any distracting agent, Dalek-eyed certainty obscures one's own unhappiness from oneself.

Of course, an understanding not of the doubleness but the quadrupleness of our consciousnesses is the route to a healthier psyche. Hegel wants to suggest this latter case, by reserving a properly dialectical consciousness to happiness ('an undivided yet double-consciousness')--a weirdly non-violent version of the dialectic, surely ... 'the gazing of one self-consciousness into another'. But its precisely the turbulence of that wavefront, the immiscibility of consciousness with consciousness, that determines what subjectivity is. Not gazing, but intervening, invading, interpenetrating. Revolution, not neutral observation. Sex, not voyeurism.