Saturday, 30 April 2011


Critics mostly agree that Wilde's Dorian Gray was based, at least in part, on Wilde's friend, the beautiful working-class poet John Gray. The name 'Dorian' is taken as a way of signalling 'Hellenic' qualities in the character; even, perhaps, as a synonym for 'homosexual'. This is possible, of course. The Dorians were one of the four 'tribes' of Greeks; and what's distinctive about them -- in contrast to the Ionians, for instance -- is their affinity with Sparta, as a place and as a nexus of values. Herodotus records the Dorians as invading Greece around 1100 BC, sedttling in the Peloponnese: 'the people they displaced gathered at Athens under a leader Ion and became identified as "Ionians". Most conspicuous among the Dorians were the people later known as Lacedaemonians, or Spartans, one of whose archaic legendary kings was named Dōrieus'.

We don't usually think of The Picture of Dorian Gray as being a novel about a specifically Spartan ethos and ethnis; but perhaps we should.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Evil is good perverted

"'The waking of the body is the sleep of the spirit and the spirit's sleep a waking for the body.' And later, like a thunderclap, 'Evil is good perverted.'" [Justine, I: 42] A thunderclap? Really? Durrell provides a footnote to this four-word slogan, attributing it to Paracelsus. Which is fair enough, although there's a kind of rhetorical mendacity in the phrase. It presents itself as a statement about the relationship between 'good' and 'evil'; it's not, though -- the weight is actually carried by the verb, 'perverted', which functions more or less as a synonym for evil. Accordingly you can replace 'good', in the sentence, with almost anything and it still functions: 'Evil is life perverted'; 'Evil is love perverted'; 'Evil is loss perverted'; 'Evil is chocolate perverted' ... anything you want, really.

Thursday, 28 April 2011


The Beatles were famously grumpy about paying tax:
If you drive a car, I'll tax the street;
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat;
If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat;
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.
I've sometimes wondered if that lovely Harrisonian bassline doesn't replicate a sense of swooping percentile hikes: from the bottom of the octave to the top (from 0 to 100%), then three filler notes, two round about a 'reasonable' level (50%-ish), one in the 90's, to reflect the more punitive Wilson levels, and then the upper octave again. At least Ray Davies, though unhappy, accepts that some aspects of a happy life are not liable for tax:
The tax man's taken all my dough,
And left me in my stately home,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can't sail my yacht,
He's taken everything I've got,
All I've got's this sunny afternoon.
Harrison would have mumbled ('wan, two, three, fowur') about a suntax as well.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

I make a prediction about the future

In the future, people will make predictions about their future. Amongst those predictions will be the prediction that people in their future will make predictions about their future.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Past lives

This is interesting: Erlendur Haraldsson, 'Children who speak of past-life experiences: Is there a psychological explanation?' [Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice (2003) 76 1: 55-67]. Short answer: yes, maybe, in some cases, trauma's-a-funny-thing. Worth reading, though (the link is to a pdf).
Is it their alleged memories [of past lives] that they speak so much about when they are quite young, or is this daydreaming of a pleasant, compensatory type? As most of them speak of remembering going through a violent death in the past-life, the daydreams of the former type are unlikely to be of a wish-fulfilling or compensating nature, as is implied in the rich fantasy hypothesis.
This, though, seems to me to rest upon a too-narrow understanding of what might function as ‘wish-fulfilment or compensation’ in the context of a child’s fantasy life. When I was quite young, I had persistent ‘flashbacks’ to myself in military uniform being shot three times through the chest. I wouldn’t say this was entirely a comfortable fantasy (it felt to me like something that had already happened; although obviously it hadn’t)—but it was, on some level, exciting. Don’t kids play at shooting and being shot all the time? Indeed, whilst pointing your finger and shouting bang-bang may be fun, dying melodramatically in writhing coils clutching your own torso and yelling ‘arrgh!’ is even more fun. This has to do, I suppose, with intensity rather than actual trauma; with testing (in terms of fantasy, only) the limits of the body, playing to destruction, positioning yourself at the centre of a more interesting narrative and, more obscurely, starting to think about death.

Monday, 25 April 2011


For some boredom is a skill that must be learned. Like good lovemaking, these people must learn to hold off: not to go skittering away soon as the buzz of stimulation-distraction is withdrawn and boredom's languid carress touches the mind. That premature 'I'm bored' is a joykiller. Better to let it build, slowly; to let boredom build its hours-long, days-long, slow crescendo, towards that exquisite boregasm.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sucks to your Assmar

I hem the inhaler's circular mouth
with my lips,
press the fat trigger,
breathe in.

In Lord of the Flies they killed
Piggy for this. Though
at least he met a god first:
neither extremity,

will be mine, it
seems. Pop the cap on
Slot the device in

a drawer.
Breathsafe for another day.
Heart giddyup.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

A very dilute preparation of Guinness

'Annakin, I need you down here!' My son is watching the Star Wars: the Clone Wars animated cartoon TV series. He repeats this line, trying to capture Obi Wan Kenobi's particular vocal intonation. That is to say: my son is doing an impression of James Arnold Taylor, who in turn is doing an impression of Ewan McGregor, who in turn was doing an impression of Alec Guinness. My son's rendering of the line is, it strikes me, a very dilute preparation of Guinness.

Friday, 22 April 2011

An Asteroid Homesteader's Song

Three generations have gone by
And my granddaughters shall give birth
Before I ever come to fly
To holy Earth.

Crowned by old time, grey, blue and white
Veined marble worked by the devout;
The citadel from which the might
That's ours flowed out--

Where outpoured, once, as wounds pour blood,
A gush of folk with rocket wings,
And Earth's long-cultured hardihood
In arduous things:

Strong, wrapped in spaceship metal, kin
To folk in all the sky's four quarters:
Age after Age, all orbits spin
Through us, Earth's daughters

Who, exiled from the tightly curled
And thick-aired gravitational heart,
Lack limbs with strength to stand the world
Or break apart.

But still we steer by earthly beacon
And still hold faith with what Earth taught;
For though our limbs and lungs may weaken
Our hearts do not.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Love with hope, as when the young westender
Cycled hatless and swift past the lawyer's one daughter,
So let the stainless steel bike bell chime and ring
Its paradoxical get-out-of-my-way and get-into-it thing .

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Philip Gross's I.D. (1995) includes this rather neat thumbnail of Wessex:
Somewhere down the line I dozed and I was dreaming
I was in Cornwall, varicose with rivers, cramped in an armlock of sea. I was a crumpled map
full of words that were me too but what did they mean?
(The magic of google tells me that Greg Allan Brownderville plagiarised this bit of this poem in 2009). It's a neat image, although varicosed veins surely stand proud of the skin, and rivers necessarily are inset into the landscape. But the telescoping of actual land, into body, into map, into poem, is well done here.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


He was addicted to apologising: an apoloholic.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Affirmation: the anti-Lear

There is no no
No is a no-no.
Let us never say never
And never-never-never-never-never
No more.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Insectile tapping at a blackberry.

Across the aisle of the tube train: a woman in a white Jane Austen dress, bunched under the breast, chiffony below. Naked legs: white-pink skinm, but with the visual texture of flesh tones applied in watercoloru over cartridge paper, rather than oil over board. Her toes were all of them visible. White plastic sandal flipflops with a diamante clasp on the thong between the big toe and the foretoe. Unless it was actual diamond. Unless it was actual diamond. The toenails were all painted flamingo pink: large, smooth tabs of colour that served only to throw into less flattering relief the blotchy tincture of the skin of feet and legs. The little toe on each foot was tucked neatly but rather repulsively in at the side of each foot, like landing gear undeployed: years of unconscious Geisha-like squashing of the feet have caused that shifting about of the phalanges. The toenail on the little toe wa srotated almoost 90 degrees from the orientation of the other toes.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Shhh, shhh, shhh.
Shhh, shhh, shhh.
Shhh, shhh, shhh.

Friday, 15 April 2011

How It Is

Beckett's 1961 novel is called Comment c'est ('how it is'), a pun on the French verb commencer or 'to begin'. Has anybody tried coming up with a title that preserves, or at least gestures towards that doubling of meaning? Hard to do. My best shot is probably: Like This -- except that 'liking things' is far from the tenor of the text.

It's So/Let's Go.


Come, hence


How it goes

Two: begin

Thursday, 14 April 2011

John Three Sixteen

A patricularly widely disseminated Biblical verse, of course: for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. Perhaps its popular appeal has to do with its ease of emotional translation. Anybody who has a son can think: 'I know how intensely I love my son; but God loved the world even more than that!' But that process of emotional translation is problematic, too: which is to say -- once you move beyond the immediate emotion, it gets gnarly. What would be an earthly comparison? Is it: 'I love my son intensely, but I am happy to see him join the army and go to fight in a war, evem though he may well die, because I love my country more' ...? But that has an unpleasantly fanatical, nationalist edge (who could really love their country more than their children? Does't saying so really just another way of saying that you don't love your kids enough?) We might object that the parent in this scenario is faced only with the possibility of their son's death, where God sent Jesus into the world knowing that he would die: so God's sacrifice, and love, was greater. But that thought also branches in weird, and unappealing directions -- as if the love referred to in J316 is that of the parent of a kamikaze pilot, for instance. Or, worse, theologically speaking: God knows his son is going to his death; but he also knows, with an absolute divine certainty, that he will subsequently be reunited with him. The parent of a kamikaze pilot may or may not hope for that, but s/he cannot know it. Which leads to the unpalatable implication that a parent who gladly sends their child off to fly a plane into the USS Bunker Hill (or the Twin Towers) has a greater love than God's. Hard to swallow that notion.

Or to take it a step further. Would God's love for the world have been proportionately greater if the incarnation and atonement had involved not the crucification and resurrection of his son, but his complete annihilation? It seems to me hard to imagine it would; yet this is, perhaps, the implication of the John 3:16 logic. I suppose the issue here is the emotional logic that you demonstrate, or actualise, love by letting go of things, or losing them. Isn't the reverse closer to the truth?


[Later] Thinking more about this. I suppose the obvious objection to what I say here is that it misreads John 3:16 to interpret it in terms of loss. It is, rather, a verse that stresses what was giving, freely: the gift. But the gift -- the whole of the New Testament makes clear -- was death; a special death; a unique, magical death, the death of a god. But death is not a gift.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Eliot update

In the room the women come and go
Talking of muscly Russell Crowe.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Capital Punishment

The arguments in favour (deterrence; punishment) seem to me unconvincing, but I'm puzzled that the thsoe who oppose this business frame their arguments they way they do. For many, their objection to capital punishment is expressed via the concept of 'but he doesn't deserve it' (maybe he is innocent; maybe nobody deserves such a fate). That's fair enough, I suppose. But what if he does deserve it? That sometimes happens. Harder to counter, it seems to me, is the fact that everybody is situated, socially, familiarly. If a man murders another, he does no further hurt to his victim (who, being dead, is beyond hurt); but he does grievous hurt to his victim's loved ones. Similarly, when the state murders this murderer, even if the criminal deserves it, the criminal's wife and children, his family and friends have certainly done nothing to deserve the terrible pain and bereavement the state inflicts upon them.

Monday, 11 April 2011


The offer of three wishes. Everybody thinks the really significant part of this is the wish. But a wish is simply the action of making will manifest in the world, and that's almost a definition of homo sapiens (afer all: look at our cities and fields! Our cars and spaceships!) No: the crucial thing here is the three.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Motionless Horse in a Rainy Field

The incomprehensible flanks of this horse
Stood placid in the dust-fine rain:

It's the same story since this land was first tilled:
The marvel that a living thing can stand so stilled.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


The Kinks' 'Apeman':
And with the over population
And inflation and starvation crazy politicans.
I don't feel safe in this world
No more don't want to die in a nuclear war.
I want to sail away to a distant shore
And make like an apeman.
It's not just that this is a pastoral text (of course it is); it is that it is symptomatic of an important shift in the logic of pastoral. It is no longer enough simply to leave the city and go to the countryside; we must leave civilisation altogether -- urban or rural -- and find a completely new, primitivist environment. Is this postDarwinian pastoral? There's lots of it in SF.
In man's evolution he has created
The cities and the motor traffic rumble
But give me half a chance and I'd be taking
Clothes and living in the jungle.
But the only time that I feel at ease
Swinging up and down in a coconut tree.
Oh what a life of luxury to be like an apeman

Friday, 8 April 2011


Not where you eat, to quote the man in black, but where you are eaten. Not where you rest, but where rest has you.

Appropriate, in many ways, that Douglas Adams locates this institution at the end of the universe. The end of all things.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bam Boom

be bop wop a loo bop a lop bam boom
be bop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom
a-wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom
a-wop bop a loo boo a lop bam boom
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom

Google reveals that all of these have proponents as versions of the famous Little Richard refrain from 'Tutti Fruiti' (supposedly an onomapotpoeic rendering of a drum roll).

All I ask for is a little consistency, people.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Concrete Poem: Jealousy

Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy ...lousy...Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


You walk towards me with the phone in your hand, and you hold it out to me; and I think: why do I always think this must mean bad news? Why must it always mean that the news is bad? There is a whole world inside the receiver's small compass, but I must think it a land of the unhappy.

Monday, 4 April 2011

More on Hamlet

George Steiner mistrusts commentary:
Commentary is without end. In the worlds of interpretive and critical discourse, book engenders book, essay breeds essay, article spawns article. The mechanics of interminability are those of the locust. Monograph feeds on monograph, vision on revision. The primary text is only the remote font of autonomous exegetic proliferation. The true source of Z's tome are X's and Y's works on the identifcal topic ... Essay speaks to essay, article chatters to article in an endless gallery of querulous echo. At present, in fact, the principle energies and animus of the academic-journalistic outpouring in teh humanities is of a tertiary order. We have texts about the possibility and epistemological status of preceding secondary texts ... Our talk is about talk,and Polonius is master. [Real Presences (1989), 39-40]
To go off at a tangent from Steiner's thought: I know Polonius has this rep., but, when I come to think about it I find myself thinking: hey! Hamlet is the one we see actually reading a book. He is the one whose talk is full of quotation from previous sources, and whose life is hagridden by anxiety over whether he is being true to the authority of that past, those old books. The play as a whole, we might say, is in the largest sense 'commentary' -- upon the forms, conventions and textual authority of 'the revenge play', for instance; as rewriting of the ur-Hamlet -- so locustlike a commentary, indeed, that the ur-Hamlet has been all eaten up and no longer exists, except in the majesterial belly of Shakespeare's play. Contra Steiner, in other words, Hamlet is commentary as art.

Later in his essay, Steiner contrasts the locust-commentary of academia with the healthful Kabbalistic commentary upon the Talmud. 'In Judaism, undending commentary and commentary upon commentary are elemental' he says, but in a good way: 'it liberates the life of meaning ... [and] represents the foremost guarantee of Jewish identity'. This is because, he says (in a nice phrase)
The hermeneutic exposition is not an end in itself. It aims to translate into normative instruction meanings indwelling in the manifold previsions of the sacred message. As centuries pass, the Torah is not only preserved literally. It is a safeguarding from the threat of the past tense. [41]
I like this. As a commentary upon his own life, and state of mind, we might wonder why Hamlet asks himself 'to be or not to be' rather than (for instance) 'to have been, or not to have been ...'

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Generic Saturation

Reading about 'the Golden Age of whodunits' I encounter the same narrative: the genre is 'born', it flourishes, hits its peak, declines and then it 'dies'. This may not be the best way of thinking about it. Neither books nor genres 'die' after all. It's still all there. Indeed, if I started reading now I'd not have time in the rest of my life to read all the Golden Age whodunits written. That's the truth of it, I'd say: genres become saturated. You reach a state where there's simply no point in writing more Whodunits, since nobody alive could read all the currently extant ones.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Terrible Jesus

Don't want to turn this blog entirely over to cack-handed (cack-minded?) theological speculation; but I am interested in this poem by Peter Redgrove, a rather underrated poet, all things considered. It originally appeared in From Every Chink of the Ark (1977):
It is the terrible Jesus. He walks on water because he hates its touch. He hates his body to touch everything as water does.
(As Orpheus sang from the river of his body)
The ulcers close as he passes by
This is because he rejects ulcers
Anything raw and open, anything underskin
He rejects it, or cover it with a white robe
He fasted forty days as long as he could because he hated food
And hated those who gave him food
And puts worlds of feeling into his mouth
Lucifer came and tempted him out of natural concern
For this grand fellow starving in the desert
But would he pass the world through him
Like anyone else? Not at all.
He came bacj from the tomb because death
Looked like hell to him, which is another thing
He won't do, die, not like everyone else.
Nor sleep with the smooth ladies.
Instead he goes up to heaven and hopes
For less participation there in those empty spaces
But from there he calls down to us
And I know those cries are calls of agony since there
All the sweet astrology-stars pierce his skin
I is worse than earth-death that destiny startlight for those
That won't join in, hedgehog of light.

This is the terrible Jesus. There is another,
And none will give him a name. He takes care.
He lives allaround. I breathe him. He breathes.
Like the air we breathe, he is free to us.
This is the noli me tangere; and also a meditation on the withdrawal of God from the world, or more to the point the apparent absence of God from the world. It is a poem about the difficulty of believing in an aloof Jesus. One of the texts with which it stands in complex relation is Donne's famous 14th Holy Sonnet:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ; That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. I, like an usurp'd town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but O, to no end. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betroth'd unto your enemy ; Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
This, we might say, is a heartfelt but unscriptural poem: the Christ of the gospels does no ravishing, and his only battering is performed in anger, as the moneylenders are beaten from the temple (unless we count the self-battery, as it were, of the crucifiction)

Friday, 1 April 2011

Divine Exile

Still harping on this? Yes, yes.

I'm wondering how far it is possible to conceptualise the incarnation as a kind of exile of God from God (if you see what I mean). God is sent away to a far place, and for a time even believes he has been abandoned there ('why hast thou forsaken me?' and so on).

We may be distracted by the thought that God’s ‘exiling’ of Christ consists of the fact that he was born into human poverty rather than riches, a carpenter rather than a prince, a Jew on the edge of Empire rather than a senator in Rome—that kind of logic. From a human perspective, it is more exilic to be socially, racially and economically marginalised. But presumably from God’s perspective (as it were) the disjunction between transcendent divine plenitude and human existence is already so colossal than quibbling over whether the specific human existence has a little more, or a little less, money or status is surely beside the point.

To test this hypothesis, we can essay a thought experiment: imagine Christ being incarnated a wealthy Roman senator, rather than a poor Jewish carpenter. He would wear finer clothes, eat better food, and live in a nicer house. By how much would these improvements diminish the gap between mortal existence and Divine plenitude? By how much less would such a figure have been exiled than was actually the case?

Can this be right, though? So much of Christ’s ministry is about the chasm between rich mortality and poor mortality. How does that look sub specie aeternitatis? Or to put it another way: if, from that perspective, it looks trivial, then maybe it is the perspective itself that must give way? That is to say: the burden of Christ’s mission was a focus upon the passing, temporal and relative standings of humanity; it was a mission exactly designed to dissolve the notion that we should regard things from the perspective of eternity. It may be tempting to think: when I have lived ten million years of afterlife and I look back at my mayfly mortal existence, it will surely seem unimportant whether I lived on £5.93 an hour rather than £100,000 pa, or vice versa. That will seem neither here nor there in larger terms. Which is to say: from the perspective of eternity—if, for instance, we talk in terms of ‘the immortal soul’ and try to see things from its p.o.v.—a human existence lived in poverty looks very like a human existence lived in wealth; or more precisely, the differences acquire the patina of unimportant epiphenomena. But this is not what the gospels say.

Of course (and this can’t be stressed enough) from the point of view of actual lived-experience, a life lived in poverty feels massively different when compared to a live lived with comfortable wealth. It is more than simply a question of material privation; it engages discourses of justice and injustice, of physical and mental health, of society as a whole. It is precisely the talent of lived-experience to erase the perspective of immortality. In the deepest sense, this is what the incarnation means. At a hundred points, it seems to me, the gospels reinforce this point.

I wonder if this is the force of Mark 10:15? Not innocence, but that uniquely childlike immersion in the present -- the way the deep past literally doesn't exist for them, the far future is a blank, and time goes so very slowly because they are so completely in their moment ...