Sunday, 30 May 2010

Magic and Fantasy

One feature shared by all Fantasy (or other) narratives predicated upon ‘magic’ is that the magic ‘has rules’. This is so because magical thinking ‘has rules’—psychological rules that is, which have exactly the same coherency and validity as, say, the ‘rule’ that ‘when turning on or off the light, I must flick the switch seven times or my family will die.’

I’d like to write a Fantasy novel in which the magic has no rules at all. That would be bracing. It might bring out this buried truth: million who think they love Fantasy because of the magic actually love it because of the rules.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Trauma narratives

Everybody should read the excellent Roger Luckhurst on trauma. Here's a piece available online ('Reflections on Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking'). It begins like this:
In 1993, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins published Reconstructing Illness, a study of memoirs about the experience of disease, dysfunction or death for which she coined a new term: pathography. In a move familiar from the brief flowering of the ‘personal criticism’ movement in the late 1980s, Hawkins confessed that her academic interest had been motivated by her own father’s death: the critical work thus shared the very impulse it sought to analyse. In Reconstructing Illness, Hawkins noted a striking fact: before 1950, she had discovered only a handful of published pathographies. After 1950, the genre had haltingly emerged but then accelerated, particularly in the 1980s, with hundreds of texts published. But even more strikingly, the number of pathographies doubled again in just the six years between 1993 and 1999, when the second edition of Hawkins’ book appeared.

This spike in production placed pathography at the heart of the contemporary boom in the trauma memoir. In the 1990s, life writing was partially re-oriented to pivot around the intrusive traumatic event that, at a stroke, shattered narrative coherence. The sociologist Arthur Frank saw illness as ‘narrative wreckage’ and pathography as a literal narrative salve: ‘Stories have to repair the damage that illness has done’. This formulation owed much to the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who regarded narrative as an act of con-figuration which ‘“grasps together” and integrates into one whole and complete story multiple and scattered events’. Trauma is a dis-figuration of that narrative possibility, but what the narrative memoir promises is a redemptive account of how the post-traumatic self might be re-configured around its woundedness.

The trauma memoir is one of the cultural symptoms that follows from the securing of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a recognised psychiatric illness in official diagnostics in 1980, after a long campaign of psychiatric advocacy in the 1970s by a coalition of activists. It has been my contention that many forms of culture have played a significant role in articulating how PTSD seems to affect the narrative possibilities of selfhood after 1980. The memoir boom is now a vast and complicated delta region with major channels but also curious back-waters, and is treacherous to map. However, it is important to distinguish the tributaries rather than subsume everything into an undifferentiated trauma discourse. For the record, we might distinguish five elements that converge to produce the memoir boom since the 1990s: 1) the feminist revaluation of the autobiographical utterance, at the level of therapeutic practice, life writing, and in critical theory; 2) a politicisation of the illness memoir by people with AIDS, producing a large body of testimony designed both to commemorate the dead and to denounce medical or governmental ignorance; 3) an expanding terrain of pathographies that began with cancer memoirs but soon moved into subsets including depression, exotic or bizarre disorders and parental illness or death; 4) the related rise of thanatography, or death writing, which might include memoirs by carers for the terminally ill, suicide in the family, or accounts of the mourning process; and 5) the re-programming of the celebrity exposé to be organised around the revelation of the traumatic secret (a boom begun in England with the phenomenal success of the autobiography of the glamour model, Katie Price, Being Jordan). These elements run the gamut from honourable and political interventions to the plain tiresome and narcissistic.
Luckhurst goes on to argue that 'in sum, we might regard the trauma memoir as the exemplary form of what Ross Chambers has termed ‘aftermath cultures,’ defined by a testimonial impulse that is nevertheless marked by ‘a strange nexus of denial and acknowledgement’. These memoirs at once allure with the promise of transgressive experiences but are abjected for precisely those revelations in an irresolvable tension of attraction and repulsion that accounts for the compulsion to publish so many similar confessions.' We can go further: this abjection is eroticised. The 'secret' at the heart of the paradigmatic celebrity trauma memoir is almost always sexual in nature. This in turn relates to a broader culture in which (post 1960s) sex must be simultaneously hidden as a shameful secret and be subject to public display at all times. The conceptual slippage from the first and second of Luckhurst's five gift things like Jordan's memoirs (or Billy Connolly's, or Ulrika Rice's) the glamour of heroic honesty, as if some pubic good is being performed. The individual who might want to object to these books must run the risk of being labelled a prude; of having 'something to hide.' Of course, everybody has 'something to hide'. For all his flaws and errors, Freud's great contribution to knowledge is his articulation of the enormous truth that human subjectivity is predicated precisely upon 'something to hide'. What happens with something like Being Jordan is interesting: what Jordan, in this text, has to hide is precisely the truth that she has something to hide. She pretends a kind of panoptic ideal openness. It's not the case; but it's the heart of her appeal.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Magnification poem

The fly's eye:
a giant's causeway,

black bubblewrap,
blisters that render

the world as mosaic --
every surface a floor.

The spermatazoon:
its one straggly eyelash,

its lightbulb head with
the coiled inner filament

ready for current
to quicken its magic light.

Villi of the human intestine:
a million tortoise heads.

The shell of this mite:
ridged like a fingerprint.

Light is too clumsy-fingered
to fumble into such crannies.

Electrons flood the gaps.
A wipe of this sponge

and we all vanish into that
cavernous holey-space.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Westermain woods

Meredith's 'Woods of Westermain' (1863) begins:
Enter these enchanted woods,
You who dare.
Nothing harms beneath the leaves
More than waves a swimmer cleaves.
Toss your heart up with the lark,
Foot at peace with mouse and worm,
Fair you fare.
Only at a dread of dark
Quaver, and they quit their form:
Thousand eyeballs under hoods
Have you by the hair.
Enter these enchanted woods.
It's lovely; but what's particularly nice is the way it reorients its topography through ninety degrees. We think of woods as horizontal phenomena, spreading across and over the land. Meredith is interested in the vertical axis: as if his woods are an ocean into which you sink, and in which you might drown. Accordingly his poem locates larks up above and worms down below, and positions us, as spectator, between. And that's right, especially for a child's perception. The trees tower over us much more forcefully than the cover the ground horizontally away from us. Patrick Benson's lovely illustrations to Dahl's Minpins, placed on the cover of this edition below, captures this very nicely:

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

La Vertu

We mistake Voltaire: 'la vertu s'avilit à se justifier' ('Virtue debases itself in justifying itself'; 1718's Oedipe II:iv) does not mean, as people think, that virtue ought not to try to justify itself for fear of falling into vulgarity. Virtue and abasement are, in fact, the same thing. Its justification is in that fact.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Lightning poem

A fishbone of lightning
discarded by the whale-coloured cloud.
Every branch ends in a cross.

Picked clean, bleached clean,
washed clean by the oceanic sky,
glimpsed clean, and gone.

Monday, 24 May 2010

The secreted world

This passage from Jameson's new Valences of the Dialectic is cool enough:
We have indeed secreted a human age out of ourselves as spiders secrete their webs: an immense, all encompassing ceiling ... which shuts down visibility on all sides even as it absorbs all the formerly natural elements in its habitat, transmuting them into its own man-made substance. Yet within this horizon of immanence we wander as alien as tribal people, or visitors from outer space, admiring its unimaginably complex and fragile filigree and recoiling from its bottomless potholes, lounding against a rainwall of exotic and artificial plants or else agonising among poisonous colours and lethal stems we were not taught to avoid. The world of the human age is an aesthetic pretext for grinding terror or pathological ecstasy, and in its comsos, all of it drawn from the very fibres of our own being and at one with ever post-natural cell more alien to us than nature itself, we continue murmuring Kant's old questions -- What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? -- under a starry heaven no more responsive than a mirror or a spaceship, not understanding that they require the adjunct of an ugly and bureaucratic representational qualification: what can I know in this system? What should I do in this world completely invented by me? What can I hope for alone in an altogether human age?
This could go further. It could, for instance, lose the slightly alarmed, nervy tone and embrace the exhilaration of this artificial world -- could register, in other words, the manifold possibilities of bliss it offers us. And more to the point, it might note that we have secreted this world for a reason, and that reason is prophylactic, as an oyster secrets the pearl. That this world is defensive, against the depredations of nature. Like a sort of Maginot line, with this important difference: that our world, more or less, works.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


From a late Shakespeare play:
What you can say is most unseasonable;
Most absonant and harsh. Nay, your perfume,
Which I smell hither, cheers not my sense
Like our field-violet's breath.
Bad speaking is here materialised as actual bad breath; and both are embodied in deliberately slanting verse. The Latinism 'absonant' (glorious word) wrongfoots us, that 'field-violet' is haunted by 'feel' and 'violate', both relevant to the overall point of the speech, 'cheers' hovers akwardkly between 'makes cheerful' and 'cheers aloud'. Expertly compacted.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Always never

The word 'always': never used in a strict-sense way.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Damn! Hell! Lordy!

Lawrence's fetish for a notional 'cleanness' that excluded humanity is well-enough known (Birkin cooing to Ursula in Women in Love: 'Don't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?' When I was an undergard, the sublime George Watson, lecturing on Lawrence, read that out and then actually threw the book away in disgust. His point was about the very close ideological connection between notions of 'cleanness' and fascism). But what strikes me is how feeble, actually, was his vehemence on this topic. This famous letter to Edward Garnett, expressing anger that his manuscript for Sons and Lovers was rejected by Heinemann (3 July 1912):
Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery its a marvel they can breed. They can nothing but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime. I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.
An ounce of Byronic vim is worth gallons and gallons of this weirdly stifled, tame blather: as if DHL can't quite let go of notions of respectabilty enough to actually yell. It reads like a vicar performing the idiom of 'swearing'. Or the pasty bravado of his letter to Blanche Jennings [9 October 1908]:
If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out in the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.
The thing here is not the despicable ur-fascism of the sentiment, although that's obvious enough. It's the inability to rouse any properly diabolic force of expression. In a writer that's almost a worse sin. It's as if DHL has, sanctimoniously, decided to reserve 'fuck' only for purely sexual-descriptive purposes.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Heidegger ... er ....

Heidegger's 1935 lecture 'Introduction to Metaphysics' starts with the uncharacteristically colloquial question: 'what's up with being?'; or 'how's things with being?' He answers his own question: things are not good.
The spiritual decline of the earth has progressed so far that people are in danger of losing their last spiritual strength, the strength that makes it possible even to see the decline and appraise it as such. This simple observation has nothing to do wih cultural pessimism -- nor with any optimism either, of course; for the darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the reduction of human beings into a mass, the hatred and mistrust of everything creative and free has already reached such proportions throughout the whole earth that such childish categories as pessimism and optimism have become laughable. ['Introduction to Metaphysics', 40-41]
Now, of course, it's a fool's game demanding of H. 'what's your evidence for your assertion?' -- although when he says 'the spiritual decline of the earth has progressed so far' and that 'hatred and mistrust of everything creative and free has already reached such proportions throughout the whole earth' we're entitled at least to note that this is a pretty sweeping generalisation from a man who has travelled over only the minutest fraction of 'the whole earth', and who therefore can claim to know, if at all, only second hand. The hidden elements in this assessment are twofold, and both quite violently at odds with H.'s stated position. One is that, although he doesn't say so here, H. can actually only 'know' this 'truth' intuitively; he feels it to be so in a way that not only needs no 'evidence' but actually overrides evidence that might appear to contradict what he is saying (the very large body of evidence of, for instance, increasing levels of human physical and spiritual wellbeing). A modern way of saying this would be: H.'s knowledge is truthy, rather than true. And connected with this is H.'s tendency of extrapolating from his individual experience to the world as a whole. The problem he diagnoses here (to quote James and Kevin Aho) is that 'today humankind is consumed by an instrumental relationship with beings; we have closed off other world-views, forcing all beings, including human beings, to show up or reveal themselves in only one way, as objects to be efficiently manipulated and controlled.' H. implicit claims immunity from this situation because he dwells on as well as with 'Being' rather than beings; but the thing about 'intuition' is that is powerfully instrumental. Whatever else we might say about Dasein, it is hardly truthy. And the projection of the self onto the cosmos in terms of 'enduring presence' is far more exploitative, in these philosophical terms, than anything else.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


More archival noting, in this case Ken MacLeod's Human Genre Project. This poem (not actually called 'Chromosome 13', whatever it says there):
This chromosomal Usual Suspects line:
Tentacle arms in I surrender pose;

Look closer, though: and each is made of zips.
The microtubal slider is drawn down

Their lines sag open, yawn, and through
These smallest needle-eyes emerge

Men, elephants and whales; bulked biospheres:
A meta boa’s swallow in reverse.

This isn’t a surrender: they’ve all won.
The arms are up in celebration.
And this story, which is called 'The Chrome Chromosome' and which starts like this:
‘You know how Candelaria robots are,’ says the first.

‘I don’t,’ he replies. ‘Tell me.’

‘Meticulous, is one thing. When they set out to replicate a homo sapiens, they do it thoroughly. From the baseline—up.’

He considers this. ‘Where am I?’ he asks.


But that means nothing. ‘What’s Candelaria?’ he tries. ‘They’re, what: different to regular robots?’

‘See, you know robots.’ says a second voice. ‘But you don’t know Candelaria.’ One voice, two voices. It’s like he’s talking to Tweedledum and Tweedledee. ‘It’s all in there,’ Tweedledee says. ‘Need to rootle it out. You know your own name?’

He finds he does. ‘Thirteen.’

‘There you go!'
Re-reading the story was an interesting experience. There are bits of it I quite like; like this hailstorm, which is the start-point for the end of the world:
‘You’re definitely starting to remember stuff.’ Tweedledum again. A grin, in the dark, like a crescent moon on its side. The scent of grape. And in his thoughts Thirteen was standing in a vineyard—in an actual, true-to-god vineyard—and it was chilly, and the light was changing. Hail was rattling through the leaves, and the sky was closing. An old world storm. Lightning flashed, but distantly and indistinctly, a shuddering glimmer through the unscattered clouds. Those hailstones were tiny and hard: grit-monsoon.

‘I’m getting,’ says Thirteen. ‘I’m getting memory flashes—.’

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Picasso's 'The Avignon Girls' is a fine, striking, beautiful painting. I have a very high opinion of it. But it's hard to find an art critic who'll talk about it without stressing its 'revolutionary' and 'shocking' qualities. They mean that it shocked the salons and tastes of conventional 1907 artgoers; but its revolutionary-ness has been swallowed by the success of its formal innovations, and its 'shock' is now something reported rather than felt. Saying so isn't to argue the painting has become diluted (although maybe it has); but it is to argue that longer term cultural endurance will depend upon the images ability to do more than shock.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Poem: Subterranean Sun

Where the fjordy coastline of a cloud,
shifts its aerial tectonics, and --
astonishingly enough --
swallows the sun,

there, faraway beaches glow lit gold
and even the inland mountain-ranges
granite-purple and black
lighten and gleam.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Who would live in a house like this?

The roof is darkness and the floor is dust.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

What's my name?

'Sympathy for the Devil' is a fine song. On my lastest listen I was struck my these lyrics above all:
Tell me baby, what's my name?
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name?
Tell me baby, what's my name?
I tell you one time, you're to blame ...

Oh, who
woo, who
Woo, who
Woo, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Oh, yeah

What's my name
Tell me, baby, what's my name
Tell me, sweetie, what's my name

Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Oh, yeah
Woo who
Woo who
I'm struck only belatedly that Richards' excellent hooting in the background actually articulates the song's key question 'who?' -- and surely all the most interesting way of taking this question is not the obvious assumption that the lyrics play peekaboo with one answer ('the Devil'), but rather that we take this question seriously as framed. The speaker doesn't know his own name.

I've previously blogged, here, about my sense that in a way the profoundest and most enduring line in Blade Runner is Deckard's: 'how can it not know what it is?' That touches on something profound and far reaching about our place in the cosmos. I'm minded to read this song as being another iteration of it.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Comet poem

The long tongue of a comet’s tail
balances this piece of ice on its tip,

half-sucked glacier mint, displayed
to the cosmos, saying, in effect:

finishing this palate-cleanser now
before chow-down on blue-and-white main course

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Her arms hung slack at her side, skin like Rouge de Rance marble; smooth save two ovals of slacker darkened skin at the elbows, puckered roughly in the middle, like nipples.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Genesisiana II

And furthermore ... the passage about the rivers in paradise (Genesis 2:10-14, of course) is very interesting:
10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11: The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12: And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13: And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14: And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
So I've been pushing on with my reading of Gerhard von Rad, who summarises the scholarly opinion here.
One river waters Paradise and then divides into four branches. Now suddenly we find ourselves in our historical and geographical world! The author projects a picture of the great river system that surrounded the world he knew, for the number “four” circumscribes the entire world (cf. the four horns as the kingdoms of the world, Zech. 2/1ff) The first river … does it refer to the ocean surrounding the Arabian peninsula or even to the distant Indus? The second river cannot be the Nile, more probably the Nubian Nile, south of the first cataract … Or does Cush not refer to Ethiopia, but to kussu, the land of the Cossaeans in the West Iranian hill country? … The third river is the Tigris, the fourth the Euphrates. [von Rad, 79]
The urge topographically to pin down this Eden narrative, whilst of course understandable, human even, is daft: might as well try to pin down the exact relationship between our world and Middle Earth. The game, as von Rad sees, is not in the topographic specifics, but the fact of connection in the first place. The simplicity of this is obvious: nobody thinking twice about the narrative could believe (for instance) that a boat-trip up the Euphrates, or the Tigris, would lead to Eden. The point is a spiritual, not a geographical, one; that paradise is connected to reality in a direct and a sequential manner. To quote von Rad again: ‘what an inexpressible amount of water was in Paradise, if the river, after having watered the garden, could still enclose the entire world with four arms and fructify it! All the water outside Paradise, which supplies all civilisations, is, so to speak, only a remainder of residue from the water of Paradise!’ [80]

This has the smack of a poetic truth. But there’s another aspect to it, which the excellently-named von Rad does not touch upon. It is not just that according to this story the real world, our world, is connected to Paradise in a direct and (chronologically) sequential manner; but that the nature of that connection is fluid. Water, of course, is essential to life; a fructifying power (if I were called in to construct a religion…). But it is also formless, a fluid continuation of the oceanic formlessness out of which Genesis’s God creates the cosmos at the beginning of the book (viz., 'And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the sea of chaos. And the Typhoon of God vexed the waters.')

Where does this water come from? Not out of the sky, as rain; but not, either, out of the ground—as, for instance, a spring or source. The J-author is puzzlingly specific about this. Where does all the water in the world come from? ‘There went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground’ [Genesis, 1:6]. This ‘mist’ is a famous crux: the Hebrew is ’ēd.

What is it? Karl Barth thinks ‘surely we can see a reference here to something already well known to primitive man—the origin of rain from the clouds and of the clouds from the moisture which rises from the earth.’ [Church Dogmatics, 3:1 241]. But this is daft. The point here is to locate the origin of the waters of the world as specifically not chthonic, nor as falling out of the sky. And this is fundamentally not because those realms are incompatible with YAHWEH’s power, but for a simpler reason: Eden, as a place, has neither a subterra, nor a sky. It is not material after the manner of our material world.

It is, though, evidently saturated with water; enough to wash the whole world. It is also the crucible out of which mankind emerges. But man is not water; man is the dessicated, adam-(a)dāma, man-earth/dirt/dust. For dust thou art, to dust though shalt—I forget how the rest of that goes.

Life flows fourfold, or manifold, from a single source not once but many times in the Bible. Here’s the first:
17: And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.
18: And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.
19: And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
20: And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.
21: And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
22: And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
Lamech begets Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-cain, Naamah; and these individuals stand at the head of the major divisions of human culture: shepherds; poets; metalworkers. But this is also a famous, major crux. Because immediately following this aetiological myth of origin we are given a narrative that absolutely contradicts it, or—since the story in question is The Flood, perhaps I should say dissolves it.
10: And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.
11: In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
12: And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
13: In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;
14: They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort.
15: And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.
16: And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.
17: And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.
18: And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.
19: And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
20: Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
21: And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
22: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
23: And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
24: And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.
But if humanity must pass through this pinchpoint, Noah and his family, then the offspring of Cain cannot stand at the head of generations of shepherds, poets and metalworkers. How to reconcile this contradiction?

This, rather obviously, is what these rivers are: the flow of genealogy. And this is what the narrative is saying: from what seems like the most tenuous of origins (a ‘mist’; a single stream; a spurt of sperm; a helpless baby) oceans can flow. And this is why the writer is unconcerned that Noah’s flood contradicts the preceding narrative. What the Flood narrative does is dramatise the way the surging mass of everybody else in the wide-world threatens to overwhelm the individual coherency of the family-unit. Water in this text is fertility, and the flood is the fable of excess fertility. In symbolic terms, this ocean of people is Cainite humanity—is us, in other words; we shepherds, we poets, we metalworkers. And the ark is the much smaller group of chosen folk, Israel, beset on all sides.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


R S Thomas should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Too late now. Here's the start of his poem 'Welsh History' (from Welsh Airs, 1987):
We were a people taut for war; the hills
Were no harder, the thin grass
Clothed them more warmly than the coarse
Shirts our small bones.
We fought, and were always in retreat,
Like snow thawing upon the slopes
Of Mynydd Mawr; and yet the stranger
Never found our ultimate stand
In the thick woods, declaiming verse
To the sharp prompting of the harp.
I suppose I'd assumed that the peculiar state of mind this describes, this particular small-boned belligerence, this fuck-you-ishness, this relish-in-defeat, this glory in the hopeless struggle, this sense of the world's beauty as a chilly thing (which, it seems to me, describes something very true about my own being-in-the-world) was a function of my Englishness. Perhaps, though, it has to do with my Welsh blood, only very partially reined by a veneer of pseudo-English courtesy of manners.

Monday, 10 May 2010

On 'Liberal Fascism'

The charge that 'liberal' and 'fascist' are interchangeable isn't a true one; but it has 'legs' ... which is to say, it sounds truthy to a certain audience. I wonder why that might be? I wonder if it has something to do with the social reality implicitly acknowledged by left-wing, and broadly airbrushed out of right-wing, political philosophies: that living in 'society' entails duties and responsibilities to other people. What I mean is that various right-wing positions, to various degrees, aim to shrink or minimize the notion that we owe any duties to fellow human beings (by, for instance: severely limited who gets included under the rubric 'fellow human beings' to exclude, as it might be, foreigners, other races, other sexual orientations, poor people and so on), reaching a vanishing point with those versions of US Libertarianism that deny the individual has any duties or responsibilities to anybody but him/herself. Liberalism, in acknowledging the counter position, in effect says: the teenage fantasy of absolutely untrammelled individual liberty is a lie. I can see how a malevolent perspective might spin that as 'fascism'.

Sunday, 9 May 2010


Mobile phones move
with the mover:
those rapt faces tilted
hands pressed against their cheeks
like everyone has toothache,

as cell phones get organised
bodywise, into
jellyfishes, cancercrabs,
decarcereal, all fluid and all flow
and everybody free to swim.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Contra Burton

Melacholy doesn't have an 'anatomy'. Melacholy is more like the smoke monster from Lost; mysteriously absent but threatening, or present and menacing, or sometimes pouncing with a mighty roar. And sometimes it appears with a smiling Lockean face ...

Friday, 7 May 2010


Archived. Posterity will thank me.

I didn’t realise Beyoncé was such a pickled fish fan! But then I heard her song: ‘If You Like It Then You Should Have Put Herring On It’

I've replaced all my grouse with partridge. It's been a real game changer.

'So,' she said to the ghost, 'despite being deceased you're sivving the streamwater looking for gold?' 'That's right,' he deadpanned.

The mendacity of certain big corporations! -- though not the limited lie-ability ones, obviously.

This marmalade is made from real marmas. You can taste the difference.

When Miley Cyrus tours continental Europe, she's legally obliged to change her name to 'Kilometrey Cyrus'.

When I tweet about metal I like to file-off the terminal 'L'. It's very meta.

Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison are to star in a film about a boy devoured by a French wolf, called In The Loup.

I've just read the Nautical version of The Waste Land: it ends 'Sea-shanti, Sea-shanti, Sea-shanti.'

My cellar was designed by Dan Brown. It's a Best Cellar.

Billy Graham preaches the gospel with a song on his lips and a gun in his hand. That's why we call him 'La-di-dah Gunner Graham'.

Been reading the biography of 'golden' Frank Bough by some dude called 'Sir James Frazer.' Seems a bit oblique, biography-wise, so far.

Obtain Brazilian coin at this hour? Get real!

I did some real gardening today too, as well. I dug like the devil. In fact I offered to sell my soil to Satan, but he wasn't interested.

We had pancakes the other day. Lovely. As they say: cometh the flour, cometh the pan.

Now, I like working in a midmarket clothing chainstore as much as the Next man ...

Cleanliness is next to godliness. I'm starting to think my dictionary might be defective.

The fact that 'soup' is an anagram of 'O! Pus!' has completely put me off eating soup.

As the clinically insane Computer Studies undergraduate said: 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take I.T. anymore!'

Ben Elton's planning a new musical based on the writing of Laurie Lee and the music of AC/DC: Cider With A Whole Lotta Rosie.

Appointment to see the Philosophy Mafia today concerning some discarded Kantian jottings. I'll make them an offer re: Kant refuse.

That burglar had nerves of steal!

You can't ride the giant wild eggs in the egg rodeo for very long without breaking eggs.

I'm having no luck emailing people about my excellent supplies of Specially Prepared American, and Luncheon, Meat. Not sure why.

I've often wondered if Galileo Galilei wasn't actually a dude called Galeo Galei who had a stutter.

Some say the plural of 'cactus' is 'cacti'. But that can't be right ... *I* is singular; *us* plural.

North and South Korea have had more than their fair share of the limelight. Now it's West and East Korea's turn, I say.

My somatic political philosophy: from each according to their appendices, to each according to their knees.

Spielberg's reboot: apparently tin is too cheapskate and 'last century'. The character will now be called PlatinumPlatinum.

Vladimir Putin secretly worships the Egyptian Sun God to enhance his sexual power: he has become Ra's Putin, Russia's greatest love machine.

I'd be tempted to give Weetabix a go, but I've not seen Weetab I through VIII, so I'm not sure I'd be able to follow it.

Pinch my paunch first of the month. I need to exercise more.

Consulting Harrap's French-English dictionary. Great name, Harrap! I like to think he was christened by a vicar with a very resonant cough.

Bowie's renting out his own rhythmic movements! I saw the announcement: BOWIE LETS DANCE.

To make assurance doubly sure, I'll wear trouser suspenders throughout this pagan festival: Beltane braces.

Renewable Sikh energy: a wind turban.

Bach's lesser-known work, The Ill Tempered Clavier, begins with the 'Prelude No.1 in C Major What The Fuck Are You Looking At?'

Dwarfs are grumpy. They suffer from low elf esteem.

The rabbit bit me, so the two us drove to a carpark where people were having random sex. Dog with the hare that bit you, they say.

Love is like a butterfly. It has a head, a thorax, and an abdomen, three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae.

Such a compliment! 'Adam, these tweets of yours .... well, they're laughable.'

I'm pretty good at most aspects of slapstick actually; but pratfalls ... well that's where I fall down.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Pouring in Purity

Here's something Scottish poet Ranald MacDonald understands:
I followed your footsteps
in the snow.
The compressed tread
of your boots
formed the soles
of an upside-down
his head buried
deep in earth,
the stars
pouring in purity
through his ears,
as they only can
for a man
born of snow.
I found this superb poem in an old copy of Stand magazine (Autumn 1991, p.74): an expertly evocative central image of inversion, chiming sciencefictionally (for me, of course) as the world turned upside down and thereby revealed in wonder. What MacDonald understands, in other words, is that the stars are a kind of snow, falling immeasurably slowly through our upended selves. We're all, of course, made of snow.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


These superbly overfamiliar lines:
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
OK: the dominant interpretive tradition here, I suppose, is that God takes chaos and manipulates it into order. Gerhard von Rad [p.48] insists that v.1 must be separated syntactically from vs 2-3, not run on with them as some translations suggest (which is to say: we shouldn't translate that first verse, 'at the beginning when God created heaven and earth ...'):
If one considers 1-2 or 1-3 as the syntactic unit, then the word about chaos would stand logically and temporally before the word about creation. To be sure, the notion of a created chaos is itself a contradiction; nevertheless, one must remember that the text touches on things which in any case lie beyond human imagination.
The excellently-named von Rad makes the point that where the creation myths of Israel's surrounding cultures tended to posit a preexisting chaos afterwards shaped and ordered by a deity, Israel 'sharply ... demarcated herself' from such stories, and imagined a Creator who Creates absolutely; not a god who moves around preexistent building blocks.

That's all fair enough, I suppose. But reading this, it struck me how wrongheaded is the persistent notion of a Creator who 'broods' on Chaos and generates order. 'Brooding', as a hen does on an egg (or more usually, I suppose, in the modern sense, as a thinker does with an idea, behind her creased brow) itself helps shape a narrative on the imposition of steady order on formlessness and void. But that's not it at all. The creation narrative of Genesis is something much more interesting. Here's von Rad again:
The much disputed m(e)rahepet ('hovered') is not to be translated by 'brood', but, according to Deut. 32.11 and Jer 23.9, the verb appears to have the meaning of 'vibrate', 'tremble', 'move', 'stir.' ... Ruah (e)lohim, ('Spirit of God') is better translated 'storm of God', ie terrible storm. [49]
Now, von Rad thinks this Ruah (e)lohim took 'no more active part in creation'. But I'd like to think otherwise: that the creative act was the storm stirring the formless void, the action of chaos upon chaos. There's something counterintuitively right-seeming about that, something suitably Nietzschean, that order is actually the action of disorder upon disorder. The nature of Apollo is the thrashing of Dionysis through the chaotic medium. I'd also like to see an edition of the Bible that translated this text according to von Radian precepts: 'And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the sea of chaos. And the Typhoon of God vexed the waters.'

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


I wonder why I'm so very struck (since I found the image here, I suppose I could say 'verre-y struck') by the above image. It's partly that it is so well rendered qua glass, I suppose; and it has something to do with the unusual shape and the superb marine-blue colour. But I think the clincher is the lighting: the blue shadow with sparks of white-blue lightfire in it. The way the fills this empty bottle with something that appears almost fluid. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Monday, 3 May 2010


One of Ruskin's most potent phrases: wise and world-changing: 'there is no wealth but life.' It's true, of course; although it is also true, lamentably enough, that there is no poverty but life. People from Ruskin on believe the one but not the other.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


There's common or garden ignorance, and then there's what I like to call Bignorance: the various sorts of systemic, ingrained, vested-interest societal ignorance. This latter is more than just the accreted mass of the former, and must be contested as such.

Saturday, 1 May 2010


Listening to the Elgar suite. It's growing on me, though its irredemiably religious, and a little groany-stately to boot. But it sent me back to Newman's original poem, and got me thinking about the name. He's called Gerontius because he's very old, at the extreme edge of his long life (though oddly 'old' doesn't appear in the poem, in relation to the protagonist's age, at any point). So, yes, presumably it's hard-g long-e Geerontius, since the Greek geeras, means 'old age', from geerasko, 'to grow old, to become old and infirm'. But I'd say Newman, whose Greek was good enough, might also be glancing at geeruo, 'to call, cry, to sing' ... de profundis clamavi and all that; or to quote the poem:
And hark! I hear a singing; yet in sooth
I cannot of that music rightly say
Whether I hear or touch or taste the tones.
Oh what a heart-subduing melody!
Or to quote G.'s own soul himself:
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn.
Strange that 'old man' and 'singing' should be the same word, more or less. Or perhaps not.