Thursday, 31 May 2007

The dying of the year

Autumn trees the colour of bleeding. They pour their bulk away into bright drifts until all the red is drained out of them. They skeletise themselves. And then it is winter, when the whole titanic world collides with its iceberg, scraping white down its flank and starting its slow subsidance into the deep cold. The snail-trail of frost everywhere. The sky bone. The ground pulped and rolled to fresh paper. The black tree given half a layer of Hiroshima-white skin.

It's the transition from leaf-fall to snow-fall. A solid tree dissolving itself into myriad rustling droplets; a fluid rain chilling itself into solid flakes. It's all in the interchange.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007


Of course it’s true to say that some girls are bigger than others. But some girls are the same size...

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

What the blues is the blues cures

Catharsis is a homeopathic principle; and we know how much credence is given to homeopathy in this modern world ...

Monday, 28 May 2007


The phrase amour-propre (since 'propre' means clean) elides 'self-love' and 'clean-love'. What a striking portmanteau that is! What truths it contains!--not that self-love is somehow good or valuable, but that notions of cleanness are, at root, prideful notions. The euphemism 'ethnic cleansing' has taken on wide cultural currency for a reason, after all ...

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Feeling good

The advertising tagline on a packet of breakfast cereal: 'helps you feel good on the inside!' (And, actually, a swift google reveals that that's a phrase applied to a variety of health products.)

It's an expression that naturally leads us to contemplate the alternative; for what would it feel like to 'feel good on the outside'? This is to think beyond the obvious point that feelings are inevitably 'on the inside.' It is to note that the goodness too can only be 'on the inside'. There's no outside to goodness. The closest we come is that epidermal sense of goodness travelling from the outside to the inside, where the feeling will collect itself; but even that is a kind of illusion. No such word as extrabonum.

But of course 'inside' here is a euphemism for 'gut', to be implicitly distinguished from (say) the head. That's even more interesting; as if the line separating our insides and outsides is drawn along the line of the neck ...

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Decapitating the vampiric hydra

And why are we faffing about with this tiny bottle of holy water here, and that tiny bottle of holy water there? Instead: take a priest to Land's End and have him bless the Atlantic ocean. Fly him then to California and have him bless the Pacific. For completeness sake, scoot him over to India and have him bless the Indian ocean.

Then, as the natural cycle draws moisture into clouds holy water will fall from the sky. Plants will soak it up, mists and dew will be holy, and the vampires will dissolve in agony world wide. As we drink and eat, holy water will seep into our bodies and form the medium for our red cells. Drinking our blood will scald and destroy vampric mouths and gullets. Breathing the moist air will corrode their lungs. Within a year all vampires will be gone.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Historic Caernarfon

Standing on the battlements of Caernarfon, looking across the bay, he said: ‘I like it here. You get the sense of a lot of history here.’

Which is an interesting way of looking at it, as if history is something that accumulates, or pools, in certain places. But of course the reason why Caernarfon feels historical is because it has had relatively speaking only a little history. History is a force that is continually erasing the physical traces of history. There’s much more history in Coventry, or Southampton, than in Caernarfon or the shambles at York.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Mallarmé cigar poem

[Update: several better versions of this, by more skilled poets than I, can be found here]

The whole soul invoked
In our slow exhalings
Plural rings of smoke
Vanishing in other rings

Attest to some cigar
Burning sagely while
The cinders keep apart
From the clear kiss of fire

As the choir of Romance
Flies up to your smile
Keep out if you chance
On the Real for it is vile

The clear sense makes unsure
Your vague literature.

[Stéphane Mallarmé 'Toute l’âme résumée' (1895)

Toute l’âme résumée
Quand lente nous l’expirons

Dans plusieurs ronds de fumée
Abolis en autres ronds

Atteste quelque cigare

Brûlant savamment pour peu
Que la cendre se sépare
De son clair baiser de feu

Ainsi le chœur des romances
À la lèvre vole-t-il
Exclus-en si tu commences
Le réel parce que vil

Le sens trop précis rature
Ta vague littérature.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007


Seferis says somewhere that ‘the veins of men are a net the gods made to snare us in’. The nerves might suit this metaphor better, except that nerves are more easily snapped and broken; whereas a vein or artery has that elasticity and durability of a good net. And, putting it like this makes me realise that the body has it the wrong way around; because our passions, though they may snare us, form a net from which it is fairly easy to break free; where our thoughts (our beliefs, our faith) is a net that almost nobody can sever.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Self belief

We can admire it, but it's hard to forgive another person's self-belief.

But then again, if self belief is a synonym for pride, then doesn't that mean that belief itself is in some sense prideful? Any belief at all? (The cheek of believing!)

Monday, 21 May 2007

Absolute freedom

Hegel argues that an absolute freedom requires homogeneity. Might this be true not in the vulgar Stalinist sense that humanity can only be free in the mass, but in the sense that even the most idiosyncratic and individual impulses towards freedom are actually part of a single absolute choice, a raft of possible actions that turn out to be, in the end, the same human action? Might it be that freedom is always, in the end, the same freedom?

Sunday, 20 May 2007


'It is considered sacriligeous to breed men in the way we breed cattle,' Olaf Stapledon observed in The Splendid Rose (1908). 'But why is it sacriligeous to use direct means for the improvement of human beings?'

We might add: would it be more sacriligeous to breed cattle in the way we breed men? To insist that cattle love one another and their offspring monogamously, to have calves born into cattle families, attend cattle schools, and only end up on our plate as the result of war or criminal execution? To breed cattle purposelessly, and condemn any person who suggested we breed them to some patricular end?

Saturday, 19 May 2007


None is the beginning of freedom.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Philosophy as cosmic time machine

If I were to tell you that I had constructed a time machine that could travel forward ten thousand years, you might very reasonably ask me for proof. But that’s easy! You and I step inside, I flick the switch, and when we step out again we see—the towering filigree architecture of the far future; taller slimmer humans with much larger heads; a silver sheen to the ordinary daylight and so on.

But what if I tell you that my machine works in such a way as to take not only you and I ten thousand years forward, but the whole world? We step out into 2007 architecture, ordinary-looking people, and petrol driven cars. But the stars! We need only look up into the night sky and see how far the proper motion of the stars has, for instance, sprawled open Ursa Major.

But what if I tell you that my machine works in such a way as to take not only the whole world forward in time, but the whole cosmos? Then there’s no way to determine for sure whether my machine works or not.

About two-thirds of the questions philosophers argue over are examples of this latter category. (I mean this is the sense that it may be we have free will, and it may be that we don’t, but whichever way philosophers call it, it will feel the same to us on the ground.) Indeed, one of the ways of approaching a definition would be to say that the first of these time machines is technology, the second science and the third philosophy.

Thursday, 17 May 2007


God is by definition infinitely complex. Infinite complexity is infinitely chaotic. Infinite chaos is incompatible with deity.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Green Man

The green man, nowadays, means the environmentally careful man—the man, in other words, who arranges nature around himself in as considerate a manner as possible; a one-eighty-degree swingabout from the older model, where the green man was Nature itself, hostile to humanity, mostly, and most of all inextinguishable. It’s sobering to think how condescending our view of Nature has become ... how fragile we consider it to be. This is a mistake; not because humanity cannot damage Nature (of course we can) but because this susceptibility to damage does not mean that Nature is feeble. On the contrary. It is far stronger than we. The most we can do is make Nature ill, but Nature can kill us. For Environmentalism to prevail amongst human cultures we will need to shuck off these sorts of blear-eyed muddle. Nature is not fragile; we’re the ones who are fragile.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Verlaine poem

In the interminable
Boredom of the land
The uncertain snow
Shines like sand.

The sky is copper
Without light of her own.
It’s like watching the living
And dying of the moon.

As the clouds
Floating in grey, the oak-
Forests nearby
Amidst the smoke.

The sky is copper
Without light of her own.
It’s like watching the living
And dying of the moon

Crow, you wheezer,
And you lean wolves too;
When the bitter wind comes
What will you do?

In the interminable
Boredom of the land
The uncertain snow
Shines like sand.

[The 8th 'Romance sans Parole' (1874)

Dans l'interminable
Ennui de la plaine,
La neige incertaine
Luit comme du sable.

Le ciel est de cuivre
Sans lueur aucune,
On croirait voir vivre
Et mourir la lune.

Comme des nuées
Flottent gris les chênes
Des forêts prochaines
Parmi les buées.

Le ciel est de cuivre
Sans lueur aucune.
On croirait voir vivre
Et mourir la lune.

Corneille poussive
Et vous les loups maigres,
Par ces bises aigres
Quoi donc vous arrive?

Dans l'interminable
Ennui de la plaine,
La neige incertaine
Luit comme du sable

Monday, 14 May 2007


Freedom may not be the opposite of necessity. Or rather, freedom may turn out to be an alternate mode of necessity--the joyous rather than the cruel, for instance. The liberating necessity rather than the imprisoning.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Ageing poem

You get older
You shrink
Your soul gets scribbly

Your soul doesn’t go to heaven
Only your skin goes to heaven.
Your spirit is your skin.

Your brain goes into the sky.
And it goes under the ground.
And some of it stays here.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Folk and Fairy

It's always tempting to read more significance into words than they actually merit. For example: isn't it strange that fairy tale and folk tale mean, essentially, the same thing? It's a semantic fact that seems to say more than just that ordinary folk are only interested in stories of fairies (which is already fairly dismissive); it seems to say that there is some implied equivalence between these modifiers. Fairy = Folk, which is to say, the bulk of ordinary people, taken historically and culturally in the mass, constitute a kind of illusory or fantasy body ...

As if by talking of the fairy tale, we are implicitly denying the reality of the Volk.

Friday, 11 May 2007


It's tempting to think of speech--of, let's say, a book--as the residue of a much richer and more complete mental life; the discards from what we like to think is the almost infinite sophistication and subtlety of our soul-life. But the reverse is actually true: the mental life of an author is in fact a kind of remnant or residue of what s/he has written.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

The Robin Hood problem

The Robin Hood problem: you leave the human society to live, unfettered, in the woods. But you can’t leave the human society well alone. You must keep returning to steal from it’s rich, to give to its poor, to sleep with its Maid Marians and fight with its Sheriffs of Nottingham. Why not have the courage of your Robin Hood convictions?

Wednesday, 9 May 2007


There's a difference, isn't there, between a structural authenticity and a localised or specific authenticity?

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The arrow of time

Let us draw an arrow arbitrarily. If as we follow the arrow we find more and more of the random element in the state of the world, then the arrow is pointing towards the future; if the random element decreases the arrow points towards the past. That is the only distinction known to phsyics. This follows at once if our fundamental contention is admitted that the introduction of randomness is the only thing which cannot be undone. I shall use the phrase ‘time’s arrow’ to express this one-way property of time which has no analogue in space. [Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, 1928]

I'd always assumed that an arrow was the metaphor of choice here because, you know, it points in a certain direction. Latterly, though, I find myself wondering whether the other aspects of the metaphor are not more important; the skill, for instance, in the directing and loosing of the arrow; our alarm at its speed; the pain upon its impact in our bodies. The bullet of time would work just as well as a way of talking about these things, wouldn't it?

Monday, 7 May 2007


A newspaper account of the recent Lunar eclipse included this line: "the event begins when the Moon’s disc touches the edge of the Earth’s penumbral shadow at 20:17 GMT."

How wonderful this use of the word touch: two bodies further apart than lovers have ever been in the history of loving; this silent, enormous passage, the least tactile experience imaginable--it is a touch. Wonderful that touch encompasses light and shadow on such an inhuman scale. It is touching.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Cool spring morning

After such headachey hot weather, a cold Spring morning. The sun through the mist like a tablet of alka seltzer dissolving white into the water.

Saturday, 5 May 2007


The beginning of wisdom is understanding this: everything is a situation.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Being at peace with ourselves

Of course we need to be honest with ourselves if we're ever going to be at peace with ourselves. On the other hand, we need to be absolutely sure that peace is what we want. The metaphor from international relations is rather misleading, after all: what are the benefits of peace?--trade and prosperity, say, and the removal of the threat of being explosively disaggregated. Setting this last (of course, significant) merit aside, on the grounds that it requires a very great quantity of metaphorical internal strife actually to kill us--what of the others? In what ways would a prosperity of the self differ from a mere bourgeois smugness of ego? And how are we to benefit from trading with ourselves?

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Science and common sense

Some scientific discoveries fly in the face of common sense; others reinforce our common sense of how the cosmos is. What I’m interested in is whether anybody has researched the proportion between these two quantities. I’d say the common sensical position would be that the latter would much outweigh the former, but this, like Russell’s barbers who shave themselves, may be a self-contradictory thing to say.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007


There are few things as brutal as innocence.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Dogs' thoughts

Uriah Kriegel articulates a common view on animal consciousness: "A dog has some conception: it knows that its paw is its own. But the dog’s self-conception is very limited. For example, studies show that dogs do not recognize themselves in the mirror."

But why do we say "very limited"? Why don't we, for instance, say "very focussed?" An unlimited consciousness would be a wholly unworkable thing, after all; and mightn't we well judge the worth of any consciousness in terms of the effectiveness of its focus?