Friday, 29 February 2008

Flower poem

The empty skullcaps
.....................................of the hyacinths
the cabbage-folded inward
.....................................pinks of roses,
oleander's plughole swirl, dropsical
.....................................purity of lilies
or the long verdibrass tubing
.....................................through which bindweed
blows its effortless white trumpet.
all tongues
.....................unheard except in colour:
......................................their Lilliputia
whose ports receive the gold and ivory
......................................their amber
their coins of amber ranged in a circle.
howsoever richly dressed a flower still only a flower.
however finely dressed ape
is still an ape, and I, an ape,
......................................seize to copy the
dress and address of these flowers.
......................................The Thames
Flows as air along my lawn; the bees
......................................are barges
ferrying to and fro with hooversac legs,
......................................a dubeity of light
......................................spends itself dust, golddust.
Flowers sprawling in the dirt.
......................................It does not stay.
......................................Here! here! clitus!
......................................say the birds
the barn owl quotes Heraclitus
......................................Truly all's flow, and
those golds, gracing that bed, are called
......................................calendula heraclitii.
That is their true, their scientific name.

Thursday, 28 February 2008


'We are the hollow men'? ... speak for yourself, Tom.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008


Superman. Overman. Aboveman. Higherman. Elevationman. Upman.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


'A pain in the neck' signifies a small irritation, not major suffering. Strange idiom, really, given that the neck contains both carotid artery and spine; strange since a guillotine delivers precisely a pain in the neck.

Monday, 25 February 2008


Thought is a lion. Which is to say, though capable of majesty and power, it actually spends twenty-three hours a day simply lolling.

Sunday, 24 February 2008


Logic is an ideology, though not necessarily a malign one.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Nicholas of Cusa

Nicholas of Cusa believed that God manifested the 'coincidence of opposites': that, for instance, only in God is existence and essence identical, that God is simultaneously the greatest and the smallest, and so on. But what of the opposite of the coincidence of opposites? Is the Devil the most coherent and non-contradictory of entities, by this logic? Ah, such rusty heresy ...

Friday, 22 February 2008


A doctrine of Necessity involves a sort of inevitable disbelief in humanoid (or humanlike) deity; which is to say, Shelley's famous pamphlet might as well have been not The Necessity of Atheism, but The Atheism of Necessity.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


Rubén Darío said: 'Si la patria es pequeña, uno grande la sueña.' [If the homeland is small, one dreams it large]. But doesn't the opposite hold? Dreaming the British Empire into a small island; dreaming the dinosaur-sized carbon footprint into a tiny pad; dreaming the Republic of the Ego into a smaller and less self-regarding compass. Who would rather live in Brobdingnagia, when it's possible to dwell in Lilliput?

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Ontological disproof again

Here is one of Anselm's saintly versions of the ontological proof.

1. God is that entity than which nothing can be greater.
2. The concept of God exists in human understanding.
3. God exists in one's mind but not in reality.
4. The concept of God's existence is understood in one's mind.
5. If God existed in reality it would be a greater thing than God's existence in the mind.
6. The final step to God's existence is that God in reality must exist.

What is especially fascinating about this version of the proof is that it specifically sets God-as-reality against God-as-fiction. It is hard to deny that there are some people (call them believers) who have the concept of God in their minds; just as there are people (call them atheists) who do not. (Proof: a mind cleansed of the idea of God is purer than one contaminated by it; therefore God exists not). Now, parsing the difference between fictional characters and real people is a life-skill almost everybody manages. Which is to say: it's bold to frame a proof that (point 5, above) flies in the face of our everyday experience that fictive characters are in so many ways greater than real people.

1. Mr Dobalena, who lives over the corner shop, is a grey, timid and retiring individual.
2. Mr Dobalena has this advantage over Captain Jack Sparrow, that he actually exists (Captain Jack Sparrow does not actually exist).
3. Captain Jack Sparrow has the following advantages over Mr Dobalena: he is more colourful, more exciting, more interesting, sexier, wealthier, more widely known, more widely loved, and more alive.
4. In this sense, Captain Jack Sparrow trumps Mr Dobalena.

By the terms of Anselm's proof, a suitably vivid fictional God will be a greater thing than a mundane actual (Spinozan) God-or-Nature. Except that he is not real. And the reality was what we set out to try and establish from the beginning.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008


This beach, where the ocean turns over on its side, again and again.

Monday, 18 February 2008


What's the opposite of deny all knowledge? It must be something like original sin.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Crying wolf

We've got this story wrong. The boy cried wolf because there was a wolf; and the following day he cried wolf again for the same reason. Each time his crying saved the flock, but nevertheless after several days the townspeople became tired with his constant crying. Eventually they ignored him, and when the flock suffered inevitable depredations they decided, unanimously, that it was his fault all along.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Middle life

There comes a time in most people's existences when, life having gone on for a certain number of decades, things having happened, they look around, distracted from the distractions of the everyday, with a sudden astonishment at their lives, as if glimpsing a camel in mid-air.

Friday, 15 February 2008


‘Some believe/We over-employ our gifts’

‘Blackness is to be/distinguished from blankness’

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Weakness poem

You were perhaps a weakness
or an accumulation of
white cells, tear-shaped, edgeless
the immune-response of love:
a blizzard on the body's page
weakness throwing to relief
strengths of loss and of age
the muscularities of grief.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


Descartes, famously, searching for one thing that he could absolutely and certainly call his own, lighted on his cogito. It was something he was sure no malicious demon could take away from him. But Philip K Dick, famously, is an anti-Descartes. He approaches ‘I think therefore I am’ (he dramatises that question) with the devastating and brilliant counter: why do you assume that the thoughts in your head are yours? It’s an index to the centrality of the Cogito to Western thought as a metaphysical cornerstone, or guarantee, just how unsettling this brilliant, penetrating question can be.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Photonic monsoon

Day is a rainfall of light.

Monday, 11 February 2008


Falling, the raindrop digs its own grave in the soil.

So it is they say: when the rain comes it hides its head.

Sunday, 10 February 2008


Primo Levi said there was no such thing as absolute happiness, 'but there's no such thing as absolute misery either', which would be a comforting thought, I suppose, if true. And more than comforting; heroic, to think that the level of external misery that Levi (for instance) underwent cannot generate absolute miseries. But a part of me thinks the absolute in unhappiness will be generated internally, not externally; and that Levi makes his statement in the teeth of the experience of depression in its fullest form. Of course, Levi knew something about the darkest depressions, too.

Saturday, 9 February 2008


All oceans have walls.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Adam and Steve

Wasn't it Jerry Falwell who said 'God created Adam and Eve in that garden, not Adam and Steve'? What's depressing, and surprising, in equal measures, about that statement is the extent to which it reveals an inability to think through counterfactuals (surprising given that Christianity is one long counterfactual: imagine if the world were created and ruled by a loving God ...) Can it really be that Falwell, or his millions of followers, have really never thought-through the possibilities opened up by the sf of that sentence? A world created by a savage, judgmental God in which homosexuality is divinely ordained, and disgusting heterosexuals like J.F. are forced to disguise their desires, or face persecution ...

The only response to such idiocy must be: 'let's for the sake of argument say he had created Adam and Steve. What would you do? How would you deal with your desires? Would you marry a man and meet women secretly, on the side? Or would you simply come out and say: "I desire women, this is how my desires are"?'

Thursday, 7 February 2008


H L Mencken said, in 1926, 'the basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. It is not so much a war as an endless standing in line. The objection to it is not that it is predominantly painful, but that it is lacking in sense.' But here he is betraying a prejudice that tragedy ought to be meaningful (the opposite to 'lacking in sense') and not boring. Of course that's not the logic of tragedy.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A world of pure being

Auden described utopia as ‘Earthly Paradise: a world of pure being’ in which ‘what people are and what they want or ought to become are identical’. There’s a superficial attractiveness about this, I suppose; but it doesn’t survive close analysis. Auden is describing a world in which, were it to be conjured forth, bliss would become boredom, and boredom bliss. He has simply misunderstood the nature of living in the world: which is to say, it is not living but the obstacles to living that make it worthwhile. The aim of the utopian theorist ought to be to keep those obstacles within human parameters: a world in which fundamental lacks of food, or shelter, or healthcare, or security lead to death is a world in which obstacles have become absolute barriers. By the same token affluence, or materialism, or religion, if raised to a social absolute (as they are in a number of countries in the world today) place absolute barriers, rather than mere obstacles, in the way of human beings.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008


Night, the sublime transparency of night! -- when we can see through: before dawn comes to solidify the sky to a wall.

Monday, 4 February 2008


A gentlewoman of the same city saw a fat hog cut up; when the entrails were opened, and a noisome savour offended her nose, she much misliked, and would not longer abide; a physician in presence told her, as that hog, so was she, full of filthy excrements, and aggravated the matter by some other loathsome instances, insomuch this nice gentlewoman apprehended it so deeply that she fell forthwith avomiting, was so mightily distempered in mind and body, that with all his arts and persuasions, for some months after, he could not restore her to herself again; she could not forget it, or remove the object out of her sight. [Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Pt. 1, Sec. 2, Mem. 4, Subs. 3]

What are the routes through this manner of melancholy? To deny that there is any fundamental similarity between oneself and the pig ('...for I have a soul' and so on); to simply forget, distract oneself, put it out of one's mind; to drive through the middle and address one's own disgust ('...and what, exactly, is so disgusting about viscera? They are functional, after all: my disgust is irrational') Or the contrary; to insist upon the instrumental parallels between pig and person: the viscera revolt my eyes, but how nice they taste when properly prepared. See viscera, think sausages. As with the beast, so with me, I must devour myself to avoid disgust.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Last night: I was explaining to somebody how much I liked the picture they had made; its forms and colours. 'It's upside down'. We all laughed--a very warm and inclusive mood, in this dream--and I turned it round and found a completely different set of forms and colours to admire.

Saturday, 2 February 2008


Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the U in U-topia stands (as in 'u-bahn') for underground ...

Friday, 1 February 2008

How very Nietzschean

'Both God and art belonged,' says Terry Eagleton [LRB, 24.1.08, p.14] '(for the Romantics) to that rare category of objects which existed entirely for their own sake, free of the vulgar taint of utility. the third member of this category was the human being. In their freedom, independence and glorious pointlessness, works of art were images of men and women -- or at least of what they could become under transformed political conditions. In this sense art was a politics all of its own, pointing to a future society in which human beings would be treated as ends in themselves. It was a foretaste of utopia in its very uselessness.'

When Terry says 'images of men and women -- or at least of what they could become under transformed political conditions' he means 'images of aristocrats'. Can't say I'm altogether comfortable with the notion hat the point of Revolution is to make us all into Montagues of Beaulieu. The issue here is getting utility entirely the wrong way around: because utility is a uniquely human concept nothing exists for reasons of utility except humans. The cholera bacterium has no utility, and cares not; but that I can be of use is the proudest boast I can make as a person.