Monday, 30 April 2007

Earthabout-sun, Sunabout-earth

Wittgenstein supposedly, and doubtless apocryphally, once discussed the matter of the geocentric model of the solar system. Of course, said Russell (or the student, or whoever his interlocutor was), you can't blame the medievals. The geocentric model of the solar system makes a kind of sense. After all, it does look, from an Earthly perspective, as if the sun revolves around us.

To which Wittgenstein supposedly replied: Really? And how would it look if it were the other way round?

It's a riposte designed to bully-down dialogue with its brilliance (naturally, it would look exactly as it actually does, since the Earth does indeed revolve around the sun!). But that's not the proper answer. The proper answer would be something like this.

It would look as though the sun were more massy, not the bubble of hot light we see. It would look as though the earth were less fixed. It would look as though the sky were a transparent medium, instead of the blue dome we actually see capping our human-sized world. If we moved about the sun, then we might expect to see the sun from all angles--which is to say, we might expect to be able to notice the differences between the brightnesses of the sun from front and back. We might expect to see, winter and summer, a difference in the distances of the various stars (surely, only some few billions of kilometers away from us!) in relation to one another, if our orbit truly took us on such a lengthy detour.

After all, how commonsensical is it that the earth's rotation about its own axis and the earth's rotation about the sun need to be plaited together to give an answer to the problem of day and night?

It seems to me that there's an insufficienct of relativism in Wittgenstein's bon mot.

More, there is something altogether too cosy, too flip-up, flip-about, in the way we have relocated our mental maps to the heliocentric model. In effect doing so preserves all the old human biases, with this one topsyturvying gesture of replacing one massy body (us) with another (helios). What would it look like if the sun went about the Galactic core? Why don't we talk about a galactocentric model of the solar system?

Sunday, 29 April 2007

As the asthmatic

As the asthmatic strains the hoops of his chest and wonders, desperately, why can’t I breathe? So the dead man strains against his inert flesh and wonders, why can’t I live?

Saturday, 28 April 2007

The poem


Friday, 27 April 2007


As Nietzsche might have said, "you are going to women? Do not forget your wit ..."

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Two England-Wales poems


Half a crescent moon
pokes over Hergest Ridge
like a shark’s fin.


Ploughlines cut into the metal of the engraver's plate.

Burin-moon has scraped its line in the copper earth.

Ink from night's supply poured in every groove.

Ready the press when sky folds against earth.

Ready the dawn, and the sharpness of the image printed.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Of the many paradoxes of religious belief

Belief in God is belief in a higher power, a power more complete, more knowledgeable, wiser, better than oneself. In this sense God Himself must perforce be an atheist.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007


Wittgenstein once said: 'if there were a verb meaning "to believe falsely," it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.'

As far as this goes, I misbelieve.

I could add: I hereticise, I autodeceive. He might say, 'but these are not significant!' And that's exactly the point: to believe falsely is to invest emotionally in a significance that does not, in fact, obtain in the universe. It is to believe that there is any significance at all by means of believing in the significance of x or y. In that sense, most of what we believe--of what we assert, first person, present indicative, we believe--is willed false believing. The counter example to Wittgenstein then becomes, simply, credo, provided we read that word retrospectively through its wonderfully revealing English derivative, as 'I am credulous'.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Sunday, 22 April 2007


Funny people like to hang out with funny people. This is because funny people, though they are funny, don’t fully understand funny. When they’re with people who make them laugh, they’re always, at some level, thinking: how is s/he doing this? What are their techniques? What can I learn—or steal?

Saturday, 21 April 2007

On the midlife crisis

So much clutter in a man's early life--so much fog, such that we can only see a short way into the future. Then, middle age. Things settle, and, hey, suddenly we have an uninterrupted view all the way to the end of the road. The mistake here is the inexperienced traveller’s mistake of thinking "because I can see my destination, I’m already in some sense at my destination". Because I can see the sequence that will lead to my dotage, I have already somehow gone past it, I’m already dead. Many men fall into this habit of thinking. (‘Because I can see the horizon I’m already at the horizon, and there’s nothing over the horizon …)

But then again, all of is are necessarily inexperienced traveller in this business of life.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Remember You Must Die

I can be described as living because I continue to exist every minute that passes. I can be described as dying (which is to say, in the process of dying) because every minute that passes erodes the quantity of life remaining and brings me closer to my death. In other words I can with perfect accuracy be described as simultaneously living and dying. There's no semantic trickery here; it means what it suggests, that in the fullest sense living and dying are synonyms.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Kwisatz Haderach

The virgin birth. Since parthenogenesis is a widely-enough attested phenomenon, presumably the miracle is not so much the virgin birth per se, but rather the fact that it reputedly resulted in a male child.

The mere fact of an individual's masculinity -- a miracle! How strange! How flattering to any given bogstandard male's self esteem.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007


Of course unchannelled flow, if truly unchannelled, would not be apprehensible as flow at all. From this we ought to understand that it is the channel, not the river, that is where our primary attention ought to go.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Letting Hugo out

A: We’re going to let Hugo out of prison. I have come to you to tell you the parole board’s decision. He'll be free sometime next week.
B: You have come to tell me?
A: Yes.
B: This man killed my friend. Hugo stabbed my best friend and killed him.
A: That’s why I felt I had to come tell you in person.
B: I don’t think you should let him out. Let him stay in prison. Let him stay there until he dies.
A: You think he is still dangerous, I understand. But, believe me, he is no longer dangerous. When he stabbed your friend he was suffering from schizophrenia. Now, after several years of intensive treatment, he is cured of the schizophrenia. He is no danger to anyone.
B: That’s not what I mean. I don’t care if he’s cured. He killed my friend. He should stay in prison.
A: As a punishment? But he is a different person to the person he used to be. To keep him in prison would be like punishing one person for a crime committed by a completely different person.
B: My friend is dead.
A: That is a tragedy. But keeping Hugo in prison won't bring him back.
B: So you're saying it's a tragedy for my friend, and for those who loved him, but it's not a tragedy for Hugo?
A: Of course it is a tragedy for Hugo! He has lost years of his life to prison.
B: A tragedy for Hugo would be to spend the rest of his life inside.
A: But he is no longer the person who killed your friend.
B: That’s the sense in which it would be tragic. You’re talking as if nobody is responsible for the death of my friend! You’re talking as if nobody should pay for my friend’s death.
A: In a sense that’s right. Nobody is responsible: not Hugo because he wasn’t in his right mind, and not anybody else. It was a kind of tragic accident. That's probably the best way of thinking about it: not that Hugo killed him, but that a terrible accident caused his death. It's as if he was struck my lightning, or killed in a car wreck.
B: Why should the arbitrariness of that accident strike down only my friend? Why not Hugo as well?
A: Why? Because it’s unnecessary. You’d be condemning Hugo to unnecessary and unearned punishment. If you met him now you’d understand how completely he’s changed. He’s a modest, charming, articulate man. He has a lot to contribute to society.
B: So had my friend.
A: But your friend cannot be brought back to life! Whereas Hugo can be brought back into society. If I could bring your friend back to life, I would. But it's beyond me.
B: But you can bring Hugo back from schizophrenia.
A: Exactly!
B: In other words you offer me a system of morality based upon ‘because we can’. Because you cannot bring my friend back to life all of us, who loved him, must continue suffering. Because you can cure his killer of schizophrenia, it’s moral to release him back to life. An ethics predicated upon ‘it is moral to do a thing because we can do that thing’ is too deeply rotten for me even to begin to discuss.

Monday, 16 April 2007

What I learned from Gordias

I had thought it was sometimes the case that it's easier and better to unpick a knot, however complexly knotted (and, in truth, there are only a limited number of ways of knotting a knot) than to cut it. But now I see that this is always the case. That's what I learned from Gordias.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Poem: Misery as a Van de Graaff Generator

A hopelessness in love
throws sparkles at my heart:
the close-contact friction
of our being so far apart.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Everything is holy

Oh, but it's an effort to think through the implications of that statement! It's because there's a hidden bias in our perception of what holy means, as if it's a synonym for elite, or elevated, and how (we say) can everything possibly be equally elite? But in fact holy is a kind of text, or context, in the sense that il y a rien d'hors-saint. Oh but it's an effort to fit one's mind into that notion!

Friday, 13 April 2007


The book persists, whether you believe in it or not.

Thursday, 12 April 2007


Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

So: Monight, Tuesnight, Wednesnight, Thursnight, Frinight, Saturnight, Sunight.

Or, perhaps, more likely: Monite, Tuesnite, Wesnite, Thursnite, Frenite, Sannite, Sunite.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Blue, red, black, white

The colours blue. The colours red. The colour black. The colour white.

This asymmetry must disturb us, or how else to explain our baffling habit of talking about black and white as if they have the range and variety of hues as other colours? Pitch black, ink-black, Bible-black, none-more-black, pure white, snow white, milky white, clear white.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Symbolic emotional investment

You have fallen in love with him/her, but not actually with him or her, rather with what he or she represents: freedom, status, solidity, safety, escape, exoticism, mother, father, whatever it might be. So far so good. But what if the thing that he or she represents is not safety, nor escape, but precisely themselves? What strange shortcircuit ensues?

Monday, 9 April 2007

The Now

There is more of the Now in grief than in happiness.

Sunday, 8 April 2007


Who are the people who laugh at Quixote for performing a role? Who doesn’t perform a role? The truth is we accept that roles define us, but believe ourselves such natural actors that ‘performance’ isn’t the word. But it’s precisely the performance, not the role as such, that is the important thing.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Noah poem

I think of all the bloating drowned
tangling below
who died before they ever saw
this rainbow.

It seems to me a cruelty:
this fierce judge who
would take their all from them, and life,
and then this beauty too.

Friday, 6 April 2007


It is perfectly accurate to describe the ocean as restless, but not with reference to the ceaseless motion of waves and currents, which only seems to us restlessness because of our anthropomorphic habits of thought. The ocean is restless in the way all the natural world is restless; in the sense that rest itself is a differend wholly alien to the natural scheme.

Thursday, 5 April 2007


Calling our fear a phobia is more than an attempt to dignify our anxieties with a grander vocabulary--although, of course, it is that too. But more to the point it is an attempt, in howsoever small a way, to distance our fear from ourselves, to eject it into the discourse of medical science rather than face the unsettling truth that fear is the core primary experience of living as a human. A coping strategy, in other words.

But it involves a significant conceptual slippage; something to do, I think, with the suffixability of the term. Like the -holic in, say, rageaholic which permits us to separate out or core, constitutive anger as an illness dependent (as alcoholism is upon alcohol) upon an external quantity, so describing oneself or others as 'phobic' deindividualises the experience of fear at the same time as it limits and shrinks it. There is, after all, a difference between 'fear' and 'a phobia'.

One function of this is the semantic shift whereby angst becomes a morally reprehensible social quality, and subject to the processes of social outrage. Thus rather than thinking of a homophobe as somebody made anxious by homosexuality (which he may very well be) we think of him as motivated not by fear at all but by malign hatred and bigotry. (An equivalent: not 'I have a profound fear of heights, or of open spaces', but 'I am motivated by a socially deplorable and evil attachment to the ground, or to enclosure'). This, presumably, cannot be disconnected with the fact that angst itself is, or is commonly thought of as being, much more widespread in Western cultures now than it has ever been before. Using the vocabulary of fear to describe the phenomena of hate reflects, in part, upon our own anxiety about anxiety, our self-hatred.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007


Oedipus complex, Electra complex ... too twentieth-century! Our new twenty-first century provokes new neurotic formulations; and foremost among these is the Deucalion-complex.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007


There is the familiar variety of mess, which we call sprawl; but there is another kind of mess that tends towards the singularity--the too-neat desk where the mess has been brought without resolving it into a singularity, where the will-to-mere-neatness has overruled the will-to-actual-order. Einstein once said: if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind of what then is an empty desk the sign?

Monday, 2 April 2007

When the rain comes they run and hide their heads

The rainstorm threw innumerable plastic beads at the windows and down upon the roof.

Afterwards sky and land blued.

The land was heavier after the storm than before.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

The depressive

... but the depressive is the very opposite of the hollow man! He is all insides and no exteriority.