Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Disappointments of Mimetic Art

Are those stuttery lights on airplane wingtips the best we can do by way of aping planets? Are streelamps our best shot at stars?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Son of Man

Reading this, I've come to a better understand of what the New Testament phrase 'son of man' means. So I don't mean to be crassly simple-minded, except insofar that crass simple-mindednes has become one of the dominant modes of Biblical exegesis today. But since many people believe, straightforwardly, that Christ is the son of God; and also that he is, as he claimed, the Son of Man, doesn't it follow that Man and God are the same thing?

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Cow

The cow jumped over the moon. The cow jumped under the moon. The cow went around and around the moon. The cow, altering its course fractionally, spiralled in and landed upon the moon. The cow docked. The cow vented four hundred thousand litres of milk into the lunar refectory reservoir. The cow was made of a mixture of metal and plastic. The cow refuelled. The cow decoupled. The cow was piloted by an AI with an equivalent 30% more-than-bovine mental capacity. The cow jumped to orbit again.

Dawg, watching from Alpha's main observatory, sucked on a stimulant delivery package. The stimulant filled him with pleasurable thoughts.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

North African Cities

Touchable Tangiers.
Better Rabat
Tunis Town
Tripoli: three towns in one.
El-Aaiún: the One.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Religious faith, or more specifically the satisfactions of religious faith from the point of view of the believer, are actually the potentially intense pleasures of obedience. I don't mean particular obedience (as it might be: the pleasure of obeying one specific law or prohibition); and nor do I mean the self-satisfaction of thinking of oneself, as it might be, I am a law-abiding individual. I mean that much more profound, much deeper-buried hypostasis in which, psychosymbolically, individual and social animal meet, as crucial for dogs or apes as humans. I mean the elevation of obedience into a mode of being-in-the-world.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Kate Bush's Russian song, and her version of 'babushka' ('From Russian бабушка (bábuška), ‘grandmother, granny’), diminutive of баба (bába), ‘old woman’). Ah, but it's all in the elongated 'oo'. That's the vowel that Bush sings better than any other; and this song makes lovely play with the drumbeat 'b' and the cymbal tapping 'shka' that is worked around this vocalic lyric heart.

Monday, 25 January 2010


I must get round to re-reading Clive James's Audenesque verse letters, the ones he published in the 1970s. I read them in the the 70s when I was callow and youthful (though also pale yellow and couth-less) and was very impressed. What I'd like to determine now is whether they are impressive because they really are verse-letters worthy of Auden; or whether they are impressive only to teenagers, and only on the grounds 'look, it all rhymes and shit'. Of course, this latter unacknowledged criterion of aesthetic judgment -- not that a work of art is well done, but that it is done at all -- is much more prevalent in culture than is usually admitted.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Galactic bestiary

Humankind a dolorous species mostly dressed in Blacks and Blues;
and humans all wear cresting inward spirits coloured like a bruise.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Behold The Man II

My notional sequel to this famous novel: a time traveller (an American) returns to the Holy Land c.AD33 with the following macabre mission: to shoot Jesus with a high-power, 21st-century rifle, after he has been crucified and resurrected but before he ascends to heaven. The early stages of the novel would make narrative play with the questions of who and why, teasing the reader with possible motivations -- is he a radical atheist? An agent of Satan? Or does he intend to prove that post-resurrection Jesus is unkillable (that, let us say, he has not simply spent three days in his tomb recovering from serious but not fatal wounds inflicted upon the cross). The later stages would pay off these questions, and reveal what happens when the ressurected Christ is shot at. Hint: it is nothing at all like the last scenes of the first Matrix movie.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The Mark of Cain

One of those phrases that gets misused. Here's Jeffrey A White:
So, too, the "mark of Cain" of Gen. 4.15, which is an emblem of the Lord's protection and guidance, and not a sign of ostracism (that has been effected already), an indication that Cain is sacer, the god's for good or ill.
Might the Cainish 'Mark of the Beast' be something similar?

Thursday, 21 January 2010


Nobody reads, or writes, in the Iliad or the Odyssey (it tells of a pre-literatre society, and is probably the result of oral composition by illiterate bards). That fact is in itself strange, but stranger still is Bellerophon's tablet (Iliad 6:155–203):
Bellerophon, whom heaven endowed with the most surpassing comeliness and beauty. But Proetus devised his ruin, and being stronger than he, drove him from the land of the Argives, over which Jove had made him ruler. For Antea, wife of Proetus, lusted after him, and would have had him lie with her in secret; but Bellerophon was an honourable man and would not, so she told lies about him to Proteus. 'Proetus,' said she, 'kill Bellerophon or die, for he would have had converse with me against my will.' The king was angered, but shrank from killing Bellerophon, so he sent him to Lycia with lying letters of introduction, written on a folded tablet, and containing much ill against the bearer. He bade Bellerophon show these letters to his father-in-law, to the end that he might thus perish; Bellerophon therefore went to Lycia.
Like Hamlet, Bellerophon unwittingly carries the warrant for his own death; although unlike Hamlet he cannot read them -- reading and writing was for slaves and scribes. Now there is something screwy about this -- because the Iliad is set squarely in the illiterate period, that many-century stretch after the loss of the fantastically difficult, intricate Linear B script, and before the invention of the simpler, more flexible Greek alphabet. Nobody else in either the Iliad or the Odyssey can read or write; nobody makes so much as a reference to reading or writing. Maybe Bellerophon's tablet is a hangover from the earlier Minoan culture (that's what C M Bowra thought); or maybe it's evidence that Homer wasn't an oral bard after all, but knew all about the graphic arts (which is what Rufus Bellamy thinks).

Me, I like the way this sole reference to reading and writing also encodes death. I like the way the word for writing here (γραφὰς; originally this meant to scratch with a point into a surface, rather than paint over the top of it) is also used by Homer to describe arrows piercing victims: in 4:139, Paris's arrow passes through Menelaus's layers of armour and pierces his skin, releasing a flow of blood ... and the word used for 'pierces' is επιγραφὰς, which is to say, 'inscribes', or 'writes upon'. This is the true medium of the poem after all: war writes death upon the bodies of men.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


The nature of things is in the habit of revealing itself. Luckily for us, as we are curious creatures.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


It turns out Bakunin's God and the State was originally going to be called The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution. But what a splendid title! Worthy of a Fantasy novel. Or perhaps an experimental proto-Modernist masterpiece:
like most of Bakunin's work, [it] is unfinished and disjointed. ... When Bakunin was criticized on this he said, "My life is a fragment." God and the State is indeed a fragment; the book has paragraphs that drop out and pick up in mid-sentence, footnotes that are four or five paragraphs long, and the book itself stops abruptly in mid-sentence.
I don't remember that from when I read it, although perhaps the English translator tidied it up. I do remember his insistence, quite properly, that Adam and Eve were gorillas; and his excellent Fight-the-Power midrash on the Garden of Eden tale:
Yes, our first ancestors, our Adams and our Eves, were, if not gorillas, very near relatives of gorillas, omnivorous, intelligent and ferocious beasts, endowed in a higher degree than the animals of another species with two precious faculties--the power to think and the desire to rebel.
Maybe it's more like a mythopoeic fantasy novel than I'm letting on ...

Monday, 18 January 2010


Conventional vampires feed on human blood: yes, alright. But what about monsters who feed (derive their only and vital powers from) other human fluids? Spitvamps; tearvamps; cumvamps; sweatvamps. The possibilities (eeew!) are endless. I feel a story coming on ...

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Eternal in Man

Idly glancing at an ad for a new English translation of Max Scheler's The Eternal in Man, I was struck that people only ever use such phrasing (The Eternal in Man, The Infinite in Man) in a positive manner. But wouldn't it be more likely that ingesting the eternal, or the infinite, would be enormously, probably fatally, toxic to a finite being like man? The poison of the infinite.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Damned (or saved) if you do ...

... and if you don't. Something I've noticed from religious-minded friends. If you espouse athiest views without properly engaging religious belief, they'll say: 'you're not in a position to criticise religion; you haven't properly engaged it.' But if you do engage religious belief -- religious texts, theological criticism and philosophy and so on -- they'll say: 'for a supposed atheist you're awfully fascinated with religion! Clearly your inner believer is trying to break through your crust of unbelief ... how else to explain your close attention to the Bible (or Qu'ran, or whatever) ...'

Friday, 15 January 2010


Danger is a dungeon.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Inadvertency of Grace

The inadvertency of Grace gives it an almost ludicrous, risible quality ... like a desperate suicide leaping from the high rise tower of 5-star hotel, only to land by mistake in the swimming pool.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


There is a tremblein the core of things: subatomic browning motion. The shimmering ontology.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Translating 'sarcophagos' as 'flesh-eater' is both conventional and nicely sharp-edged; but perhaps 'flesh-swallower' might be more accurate? Such coffins are more throat and stomach than they are teeth, after all.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Frederick Daniel Hardy's *The Volunteers* (1860)

[Click to enlarge]
I recently saw this picture in the flesh in York art gallery, and it seemed to me then that there's more to it than meets the eye. What meets the eye is a fairly sentimental, fairly patriotic, reactionary domestic image. But looking at it again, I had second thoughts. I think it is the way the old woman, seated on the right, has her back to us that interests me; suggestive of death, I'd say; or of the denial of life. I wondered if the whole image wasn't built around a left-right narrative line of dimunition. Look at the backdrop: the tall doorway, leading upwards; the middle-height of the window; the low sill of the black fireless fireplace, like a falling trajectory from birth, through life to death. (Which is to say: through the narrow door, into the wide & bright, and so on into the low & dark). The sense of this is reinforced by the way the young characters are all on the left, the old on the right (or more precisely, the picture represents youth overlapping age; howsoever playfully, it represents youth appropriating age). There is death everywhere, symbolically speaking. The window has been opened to let out the departed spirit.

So, there are seven skittlepins, of which six have fallen. (Is this the fate of the solitary redcoat sergeant? Did he alone return home from the wars? It's an image that invites that sort of speculation). Then the numbers intruded on me, and more specifically the sevens. There are seven complete planks between the left hand discarded backpack and the carpet; seven skittlepins (though six are fallen); seven roofbeams are visible; seven pieces of fruit on the table.

Good; seven's a nice number. But there are only six kids ... is one missing? (Has one died?)

Well, not to get too fanciful, we can at least say this: the kids are playing at being soldiers, using their dad's kit. Dad is an actual soldier. Part of a soldier's business is safeguarding hearth and home, yes; but part is death -- is killing others, and is being bereaved yourself. That is also a part of this image.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Rudyard Kipling, *The Moon Miners*

[Excerpted here are lines 10-69; this is the passage immediately before the miners unearth the mysterious artefact buried deep beneath Copernicus crater. The text is taken from Smithee's edition. Kipling's *Moon Miners* antedates *2001: A Space Odyssey* by half a century.]

We worked, digging down slant and delving deep from Copernicus’ crater
And each of us working a ten hour day, and grinding his Excavator.
Our suits’ remote commanding the drills, tunnelling lasers and Chutes
Six foot men are small as dwarves besides those mechanical brutes—
Moon miners, paid to tunnel, the regolith over us all;
The only sounds our helmeted breath, the world coloured black and pall.
The cavern as wide as Vitruvian Man’s stretched fingertips might just touch;
Each morning meeting the frozen rock, each evening leaving it dust.
And the days on the moon are a fortnight long and are hotter than boiled lead
And the nights are exactly as long again and cold as the thoughts of the dead.
And the dust is fine as sea-beach sand, where breakers turn onto their side—
But the moon’s an oceanless beach, and parched, and rockfall’s the only tide;
Pebbles and rocks and meteors that come crashing out of blank sky
And millennia come between each splash, and that surf is deathly dry.
Hurtling down, smashing and crashing, and milling rough rock into dust
An anvil of land and myriad hammers, and so the topography’s crushed.
Soundlessness, vacuum, eerie and dark, confusion of far and near:
The miner toils in his cell spurred on by ‘we’re building a city here!’
Die-cut shadows dance in the blackness thrown by the welder’s spark;
There are twenty types of moonrock, lads, but a thousand types of dark—
A thousand kinds of darkness there, and the cold comes on up through your boots:
The lunar hilltops are bleak; for sure; but it's bleaker by far at their roots.

We’d dug the main chamber, and sealed the sides with Palmact agent and Glue
And we’d paved the floor with laze-planed stones, and fitted these flags to the true.
And the echoless cavern reared eerily over us, arc-lit, hooped and tall
Shadows seemed made of elastic, and stretched, flitted and slid on the wall.
Our suits were black as pure charcoal up from the boots to the helmets’ peaks;
A thing you'll know about moondust, perhaps, is just how vile it reeks:
It stinks with the taint of sulphur, of a gunpowder fashioned in hell,
And you never quite rid yourself of it, clean, though you scrub down ever so well.
So we eat and we sleep; and ready ourselves, and its back sublunar again—
Though it’s hard and ill-paid and dangerous too, yet we’re Lune women and men.
And so we dug on, and the Vaters moved, jabbed blades, with dig and sweep,
On earth they’d have clanked, hissed and grumbled; but here all was quiet as sleep.
We drove three new tunnels, went downward slow, and aimed for the moon’s still heart…
But we found what we never thought to find, and it clattered our world apart.

We’re Lune, and we’re proud of that fact, though our suits bear House sigils now—
This is our world, and if you want digging we’re the ones who know how.
We’ll take the Merchant House’s money, let them supply new kit
But ours are the hands, and the minds and the lives we take down into the pit.
Ours are the lives: the pit is a deadly-dangerous workplace, and deep;
You need not think us your slaves, you Housers, though you have bought us cheap.
A human who’s gone in the moon and crawled through the grave-holes there
Is indifferent to threats as to money—for miners are hard to scare.
But scared I was, for all my vaunting, by what my Vater dug through
And my heart near stopped, and my breathing froze and my monitor light burned blue.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


It seems to me, now, that the core theological question is -- assuming there is a God -- why He requires his creations to believe in him. This is, I suppose, an exercise in trying to think inside the mind of deity, which is a troublesome imaginative exercise; but doing so, and presuming He's happy with his other creations going about their lives without actively believing in him (which is to say: assuming that the whale's leaping up and splashing into the ocean, or the raven's flight, or the burrowing of termites is, from God's perspective, worship; and that the whale, raven and termite embody this worship without the least self-consciousness), it's hard to see what He gets from human belief in Him, and all its baggage: human reduction of Him to human proportions, human appropriation of Him to human projects and battles, human second-guessing and misrepresentation. But even to ask that latter question is, of course, to engage in human-style appropriation and misrepresentation. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that a Deity who requires his human creations actively to believe in him is a lesser god; that the will to apprehend himself over again in the mirror of human ideas of him is a kind of weakness, that it implies a contingent and needy divinity.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A glass of water

It may have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer who drew the distinction (as a way of distinguishing 'rational' knowledge and the 'desiring intellect' of faith) between thinking about a glass of water on the one hand, and thinking about a glass of water because you are desperately thirsty on the other. Part of me wants to return that the desire in the latter bends knowledge wholly about the lines of its force, so that wanting there to be a God (say) overwhelms considerations of whether there actually is a God or not. But another part of me knows that's a cheap shot. A better way for an atheist to reply would be to find a way in which the second kind of thinking informs the former; the hope that rational apprehension of the universe would become as urgent and driven as faith.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Winter pond

The ice on the pond like a layer of fat.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Space exploration

Pitch black: the tarry sky. What deep space touches, or what touches it, defiles.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


'Fire in the Evening', is the title of this 1929 Paul Klee. Is that striking red square the setting sun? Is that 'T' a tree? (Are the red stripes and squares blood? Is the central shadow a scaffold? Or a cross?) Hard to avoid reading for content, you see. But this image isn't about content in the least: or if you insist on me being precise, it has very little to do with content. I take it to be a study in dusk horizontals, something (a) appropriate to dusk, when the levels of light are tuned by the great horizontal we call the horizon, but also (b) in smart, dynamic tension with the title. Fire burns vertically, with upwards leaping flames. Sunset gleams horizontally. This picture is fascinated by the contrast of those two lines of axis, I think.

Monday, 4 January 2010


Sartre in 1936, in his most Romantic mode, declared: 'Imagination is not an empirical or superadded power of consciousness, it is the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom.' Oddly sunny and unconflicted notion of the imagination -- as if it is not more invested in trapping us than in making us free! (As if we didn't need to piggyback other people's imagination to find our escapist buzz).

Sunday, 3 January 2010


The love you feel for your children is shaped and leant intensity by the knowledge (conscious, or otherwise) of its impermanence; you know children will become adults, and you know adults will leave you, and that this is natural and good and part of the love you feel for them. Love in its most perfectly bright form breathes the air of its own passing.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Moon Poem (The New Lucian)

Three men sat in the topmost room
Of a great white tower a mile high:
Their words were slant, their counting wrong,
They spurned the earth and sought the sky.
Their tower's foundation cracked and ruptured,
Blood-red fire and a roar of "kill!"
But falling meant a falling upward
To land on the top of the moon's round hill.
.................I am in love as giants are
.................Who look upon the earth's true star;
.................The restless bee must leave the hive
.................If it desires to thrive.

Two men got where they meant to go:
It took six nights and never a day--
A blank land blacker than waterless snow,
Its air already breathed away,
Its dust ground down by mortar-pestle:
Day and night a fortnight long,
Their only home a pot-shaped vessel,
Their armoured suits and helmets on.
.................I am in love as giants are
.................Who look upon the earth's true star;
.................The wicked bee must leave the hive
.................If it desires to thrive.

They marked the sand with booted feet,
They found the blackness of the night
Indifferent to cold or heat
Insensible to dark or light.
They measured mountains tip to root,
They tilled and sowed the ashen loam,
Tasting the pith of their silver fruit
Beneath the glaucous eye of home.
.................I am in love as giants are
.................Who look upon the earth's true star;
.................The heartless bee must leave the hive
.................If it desires to thrive.

But one man travelled further yet,
Beyond the seas and past the hill
To where the sky is an oubliette
With a straightened view of absolute chill.
He looked down over a barren place
A bootless blank, a crescent uncrossed,
A perfectly cratered and desert waste
Where only breathless moonsand was.
.................I am in love as giants are
.................Who look upon the earth's true star;
.................But a bee with no hive will die alone,
.................However high he has flown

And looking back in his solitary pass
Behind the unpainted face of the moon
He thought: "were that sand but turned to glass
How mighty a lens could be ground and hewn!
How minute the view it would gift me of
My birthly world of women and men—
I’d magnify the atoms of love
And comprehend spiritual oxygen!"
.................I am in love as giants are
.................Who look upon the earth's true star;
.................But a bee with no hive will die alone,
.................However high he has flown.

Believe unclouded sight is best:
Vacuum’s a medium most unblind.
A man remoter than all the rest,
His homeland deepest and longest behind,
Found his pure lens a cataract white,
His blackface moon stark upside down:
Contentment’s a mode of ballistic flight
That yearns at the apex to fall back down.
.................I am in love as giants are
.................Who look upon the earth's true star;
.................But a bee with no hive will die alone,

.................However high he has flown.

Friday, 1 January 2010


Reading VALIS, and wondering what else is going on with that title, other than Dick's cheesy 'Vast Active Living Intelligence System' acronym. At the moment I'm torn between a subconscious cod-etymology breaking the term into 'va' (go!) and 'lis' (read!), which would be a way of highlighting the kinetically self-reflexive textuality of the concept, or else connect it to Valentinus (to whom the novel makes reference) ... 'Val IS'. Hmm.