Thursday, 30 June 2011


I keep my children in my heart.
Because that's where my blood belongs.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Bertrand: the Hard Russell

Russell's propositions. I've been thinking about this for a while, and I'll set out my problem here as concisely as I can -- I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, perhaps even insultingly obvious. But it keeps worrying at my mind; and here it is.

Russell uses sets in order to establish a theory of logical propositions. So, in order to understand a statement such as 'Julius Caesar was bald', he first reconfigures it as 'there is some x such that x is Julius Caesar and x is bald'; which is to say, 'there is one, and only one, x that belongs both to the set of 'bald people' and the set 'individuals who were Julius Caesar'. This is all fine; I understand (or I think I do) why Russell wanted to do this. But it strikes me that it entails redefining a predicate in terms of two things: one that actually exists in the world (or actually existed: 'Julius Caesar') and one that doesn't -- the 'set'. I'm not saying sets aren't real; but I am saying that they don't exist outside human minds; that in other words, human minds are the things that recognise 'similarities' between things, and that sets are simply the extrapolation of massed lists of similarities.

Russell himself, of course, wouldn't have accepted the force of this distinction. To quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on him at some length:
One final major contribution to philosophy was Russell's defence of neutral monism, the view that the world consists of just one type of substance that is neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical. Like idealism (the view that there exists nothing but the mental) and physicalism (the view that there exists nothing but the physical), neutral monism rejects dualism (the view that there exist distinct mental and physical substances). However, unlike both idealism and physicalism, neutral monism holds that this single existing substance may be viewed in some contexts as being mental and in others as being physical. As Russell puts it,

“Neutral monism”—as opposed to idealistic monism and materialistic monism—is the theory that the things commonly regarded as mental and the things commonly regarded as physical do not differ in respect of any intrinsic property possessed by the one set and not by the other, but differ only in respect of arrangement and context. (CP, Vol. 7, 15)
To help understand this general suggestion, Russell introduces the analogy of a postal directory:

The theory may be illustrated by comparison with a postal directory, in which the same names comes twice over, once in alphabetical and once in geographical order; we may compare the alphabetical order to the mental, and the geographical order to the physical. The affinities of a given thing are quite different in the two orders, and its causes and effects obey different laws. Two objects may be connected in the mental world by the association of ideas, and in the physical world by the law of gravitation. … Just as every man in the directory has two kinds of neighbours, namely alphabetical neighbours and geographical neighbours, so every object will lie at the intersection of two causal series with different laws, namely the mental series and the physical series. ‘Thoughts’ are not different in substance from ‘things’; the stream of my thoughts is a stream of things, namely of the things which I should commonly be said to be thinking of; what leads to its being called a stream of thoughts is merely that the laws of succession are different from the physical laws. (CP, Vol. 7, 15)
In other words, when viewed as being mental, a thought or idea may have associated with it other thoughts or ideas that seem related even though, when viewed as being physical, they have very little in common. As Russell explains, “In my mind, Caesar may call up Charlemagne, whereas in the physical world the two were widely sundered” (CP, Vol. 7, 15). Even so, it is a mistake, on this view, to postulate two distinct types of thing (the idea of Caesar, and the man Caesar) that are composed to two distinct substances (the mental and the physical). Instead, “The whole duality of mind and matter, according to this theory, is a mistake; there is only one kind of stuff out of which the world is made, and this stuff is called mental in one arrangement, physical in the other” (CP, Vol. 7, 15).

Russell appears to have developed this theory around 1913, while he was working on his Theory of Knowledge manuscript, and on his 1914 Monist article, “On the Nature of Acquaintance.” Decades later, in 1964, he remarked that “I am not conscious of any serious change in my philosophy since I adopted neutral monism” (Eames 1967, 511).
I don't find this very persuasive, myself: but that's not what exercises me here (it seems to me it would be more accurate to say 'there is only one kind of stuff out of which the world is made, and this stuff is called mental in one arrangement, physical in the other' is a description of the world as it occurs in our minds, and as such (a) it lacks the force Russell wishes to grant it, and (b) being a purely mental construct, it possesses a necessarily elasticity that undermines Russell's point -- for just as Russell can have Caesar call up Charlemagne in his mind, so I may divide the world into two distinct and different things, matter and mentition.

But at the moment I'm more exercised by the idea that Russell takes a simple thing (me saying 'the cheese in the fridge is off') and deliberately reconcocting it as a laminate of the material and the mental. That's not the purpose, or intention, of his theory of mentition, I know; but isn't it a necessary and debilitating aspect of it?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Modernism is the Gothic of the information age

That’s according to J G Ballard. To be precise, the full quotation (from the last chapter of The Kindness of Women) is:
On our final day in Los Angeles, a week after the film premiere, Cleo and I decided on a last visit to the ocean. Waiting for our car, we stood in the entrance of the hotel, looking up at the black skyscrapers of Century City a few hundred yards away. This cluster of sightless towers emerged through the low-rise sprawl of the city like a harsh, obsidian Manhattan.

Cleo stared at the razor cornices, and gave a shiver. ‘Is it all going to look like this when we come back? Please God … what sort of heaven circles those spires?’

‘None I want to wake into. But face it, Cleo—modernism is the gothic of the information age. Dreams sharp enough to bleed, and no doubts about man’s lowly place in the scheme of things. Let’s head for the beach…’ [344]
’Face it’, as if it is something we’d rather not face? These dreams are precisely the apprehension of the metaphoricity of our sfnal modern age. This beach, I suppose, is Ballard's retrieval of Wells's terminal beach from the end of time to the present day; or his recalculation of the proximity of the end of time.

Monday, 27 June 2011


Affirmation: a firm yes. An 'aye' for my nation. After the question, an affirm-a-quae-ation.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Malaria poem

Pinhead mosquito with your keen-fine spear,
Swilling our blood as it foams up like beer.
Though your bite is as fine as your whining flight tones
Your mouth breaks our skin but your spit burns our bones.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


This is how Lucan's Pharsalia beins:
Bella per Emathios plus quam civilia campos
iusque datum sceleri canimus, populumque potentem
in sua victrici conuersum viscera dextra
cognatasque acies, et rupto foedere regni
certatum totis concussi viribus orbis
in commune nefas, infestisque obvia signis
signa, pares aquilas et pila minantia pilis.
Which wikipedia handily translates for us as:
Wars worse than civil on Emathian plains,
and crime let loose we sing; how Rome's high race
plunged in her vitals her victorious sword;
armies akin embattled, with the force
of all the shaken earth bent on the fray;
and burst asunder, to the common guilt,
a kingdom's compact; eagle with eagle met,
standard to standard, spear opposed to spear.
. That first line is a famously tricky one to render. 'Uncivil civil wars' and all the variants stumble, in English, on the fact that 'uncivil' is far too watery a term (with its implications of poor manners at a dinner party) to counterbalance 'civil war'. There's also, I'd say, an unfortunate echo of 'civil service'. But I'm not sure what to suggest instead. Un-nice interneicine conflict? Not-right fight? Civil war that serves ill? The Roman war no man wins? All farcical.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sects and Cults

The people of one culture believe that God is a being of antimatter, and his creation is matter, bodied forth from him in an equal-and-opposite moment of creation. This theology explains (they assert) the apparent alienation between God and humankind -- not that God does not love us, or wishes to abandon us, or anything like that, for he is eager to embrace us and clasp us to his bosom. But that were he to do so, it would result in the catastrophic cosmic explosion. Some adherents of this sect believe that the Day of Judgment will be precisely this; no severity or hostility, but a loving embrace that will result in the simultaneous end of the unievrse and the big-bang creation of a new universe.

The people of another culture believe that reality is a superrapid sine-wave alternation between different states, which we (existing on the down peaks of the wave only) perceive as unity only because of the crudeness of our sensoria. God, they say, exists on the up-peaks, whilst also being the medium in which the oscillation occurs.

And yet another people believe that God has no sense of smelll, there being Biblical sanction for the other senses (light, sound, touch) but not that one.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


I'm now wondering if there isn't a fundamental friction that generates heat, or a metaphorical unpleasant scraping noise, at the formal level of the Faerie Queene's text. To take an opbvious example from book 1. The Red Crosse Knight and his lady Una are crossing a plain. He is handsome and therefore virtuous. She is beautiful and therefore virtuous. This isn’t the way things work in our world, of course. Here external appearance and inner virtue have no intrinsic connection—although, of course, the belief that there is some such connection had deep socio-cultural roots and has had a massively pernicious effect on human happiness (was it really as late as the 1960s that Martin Luther King declared he wanted his childrens’ world to be a place in which people were judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character? Was that really so revolutionary a thing to say?). I don’t meant to be faux-naif. The relationship between appearance and worth, as others’ judge these things, is complex and compromised, of course. But the fundamental point is one we all understand: in our world ugly people can be virtuous, and beautiful people wicked, just as it can sometimes be vice versa. The crucial question, naturally, is how we judge these things. To get it wrong is to fall into the clutches of error.

But to go back to Book 1: the first adventure of The Red Crosse Knight is the encounter with the monster called Error. Subsequent adventures happen under a different representational logic. Error looks wicked and is wicked. Archimago is wicked, but looks virtuous; and from him, and his diabolic part, the narrative bifurcates into a plotty thicket of ur-Jungian doubles: the virtuous knight and the virtuous-seeming (but wicked) woman; the beautiful-virtuous Una, the beautiful-virtuous-seeming (but wicked) Una-simulacrum, and the beautiful-virtuous-seeming (but wicked) Fidessa/Duessa. And so on.

How can we tell that these latter are not what they seem? Fradubio believed Duessa’s beauty was an index of her virtue, until he saw her bathing herself in herbal essences and noted her horrible physical appearance. From this he deduced that she was evil; as indeed, she is. But this scene conflates two things. One is that Duessa is evil because she was pretending to be something—beautiful—that she was not; that, in other words, Fradubio intuits her wickedness from her duplicity. The other is that Duessa is wicked because she is ‘really’ ugly. The former has, as a moral lesson, some purchase in the real world; the latter operates only in the realm of the text.

Another way of articulating this point would be to say, that the FQ needs to function both according to its interior imaginative logic (what SFF calls 'its worldbuilding' and according to the actual moral and practical logics of the real world, where we all live (or else it teaches us nothing, and becomes a barren exercise). But something deep in Spenser's textual strategy puts these two things entirely at odds with one another.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Diacritical poem

The hangman’s scaffold is a Greek letter gamma
The black-hooded grammarian pauses
before adding the diacritical mark of
a downstroke man -- or to be more precise
pauses to wait for the mark to stop shaking
to stop writhing between cedille and ogonek
All the kicking. The tilde hair
The bulging bold umlaut eyes.
He's critical of the way this one dies.
The ligature was insufficiently tight.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Laughter as metaphor

Laughter too … whatever the many theories of laughter say (and there have been many), the salmon-leap of laughter itself is always metaphorical—a conceptual knight’s move, a joyful wrongfooting. 'Hello, I'd like to buy some fish and chips please!' 'But ... but this is a library!' 'Oh, I'm sorry! [whispers] I'd like to buy some fish and chips, please.' This has the same structure as a regular metaphor: the set up that leads you (Achilles, yes, the mighty warrior, right ...) via a sudden creative twist (is a lion!) to a place of conceptual understanding, a rebalancing that restores the comprehension via a pleasureable release of libidinal energy (I see: in that sense ...) It is uniquely metaphorical, and explain why -- for instance -- Dali's surreal paintings, although they deal with weird juxtapositions and subconscious anxieties and all the things regular theorists of laughter claim ought to be funny, do not make us laugh. They are symbolic; they are not metaphorical in this sense.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


So, I was reading an article by G E Moore on whether existence is a predicate or not. 'I think it would be good to begin,' he says, 'with one particular use of “exist”— ‘tame tigers exist’.

Moore takes this example from his contemporary William Kneale, who ‘thinks that there is some very important difference between the way in which “exist” is used here, and the way in which “growl” is used in “Tame tigers growl;” and that it is a difference which does not hold e.g. in the use of “scratch” in “Tame tigers scratch” and the use of “growl” in “Tame tigers growl”.’

The sentence “Tame tigers growl” seems to me to be ambiguous ... it might mean “All tame tigers growl,” or it might mean merely “Most tame tigers growl”, or it might mean merely “Some tame tigers growl.” Each of these sentences has a clear meaning, and the meaning of each is clearly different from that of either of the two others ... but I do not think that there is any ambiguity in “Tame tigers exist” corresponding to that which I have pointed out in “Tame tigers growl.” So far as I can see, “Tame tigers exist” and “Some tame tigers exist” are merely two different ways of expressing exactly the same proposition. That is to say, it is not true that “Tame tigers exist” might mean “All tame tigers exist”, or “Most tame tigers exist” instead of “some tame tigers exist.” It always means just “Some tame tigers exist,” and nothing else whatever.
Alright, alright, get on with it.
I have said that it is never used to mean “All tame tigers exist”, or “Most tame tigers exist;” but I hope it will strike everyone that there is something queer about this proposition. It seems to imply that “All tame tigers exist”, and “Most tame tigers exist” have a clear meaning, just as have “All tame tigers growl”, or “Most tame tigers growl;” and that it is just an accident that we do not happen ever to use “Tame tigers exist” to express either of those two meanings instead of the meaning “Some tame tigers exist”, whereas we do sometimes use “Tame tigers growl” to mean “All tame tigers growl”, or “Most tame tigers growl” instead of merely “Some tame tigers growl.” But is this in fact the case? Have “All tame tigers exist” and “Most tame tigers exist” any meaning at all?
Since the answer to this question strikes me, very patently, as ‘yes, of course’, I’ll need to dwell a moment further on why Moore thinks the answer is ‘no, certainly not’ (more precisely, he calls them ‘puzzling expressions, which certainly do not carry their meaning, if they have any, on the face of them’). He thinks that his view ‘can be made clear by comparing the expression “Some tame tigers don’t growl” and “Some tame tigers don’t exist”’, since ‘the former, whether true or false, has a perfectly clear meaning’ where the latter doesn’t.
“Some tame tigers exist” has a perfectly clear meaning: it must means “There are some tame tigers.” But the meaning of “Some tame tigers don’t exist” if any, is certainly not equally clear. It is another queer and puzzling expression. Has it any meaning at all? And if so, what meaning? If it has any it would appear it must mean the same as “There are some tame tigers that don’t exist.” But has this any meaning? And if so, what? Is it possible that there should be any tame tigers that don’t exist?
He goes on to show that if this statement has no meaning, then ‘all tame tigers exist’ is equally meaningless. I’m less interested in that right now; it’s his insistence that “Some tame tigers don’t exist” doesn’t mean anything, or rather his concession that it might:
I have admitted that a meaning can be given to “Some tame tigers do not exist” ... the meaning which such an expression as “Some tame tigers do not exist” sometimes does have, is that which it has when it is used to mean “Some tame tigers are imaginary” or “Some tame tigers are not real tigers.” That “Some tame tigers are imaginary” may really express a proposition, whether true or false, cannot I think be denied.
Indeed not; Tigger, Princess Jasmine’s pet tiger in Disney’s Aladdin and Hobbes in Calvin and Hobbes stand as proof that “Some tame tigers are imaginary”. Moore, writing before the creation of any of these instead chooses the ‘imaginary unicorn’ of Through the Looking Glass (which, alas, he calls Alice Through the Looking Glass). At any rate, he wants to insist that ‘exist’ in this sense (the sense that ‘either some real people have written stories about imaginary tigers, or are having or have recently had hallucinations of tame tigers, or perhaps are dreaming or have dreamed of tame tigers’) is not the ‘comparatively simple meaning’ of exist in the phrase ‘some tame tigers exist.’

It’s not clear to me why ‘simple’ (or even ‘comparatively simple’) deserves its eminence in Moore’s system of values, but leave that on one side for a minute. I want rather to think about two other wrinkles. The strength of Moore’s argument is that we recognise that the statements ‘President Obama exists’ and ‘Dumbledore exists’ (or, to stay on the windy side of the idiomatic, and to quote an actual example, ‘’David Lodge lives’ and ‘H G Wells’s Mr Britling lives’) signify in different ways. But the rather, I presume deliberately, naïf way that Moore defines existence (the sense ‘of which a man might have seen it, pointed at it, and said with truth “this is a tame tiger and it growls”’), seems to put the emphasis on particulars; where the Russellian logic that Moore goes on to own as his own, where the truth ‘x is y’ depends upon the linkage of an individual and a class or set—‘x’ the specific example, and ‘y’ the set (so ‘Avraam is Greek’ actually means, says Russell, ‘Avram is a man and Avraam belongs to the set “Greeks”’). But it seems to me that where individuals, in their vast multiplicity, have the sort of common-sense point-to-it-and-say existence that Moore is working with, sets do not. Not that sets don’t exist; but more precisely that sets are features not of the world but of human consciousness. Specific tigers exist ‘in the world’, irrespective of humankind; but the classification of tigers into various sets (‘indian tigers’; ‘man-eating tigers’ and so on) speaks to something in our heads—something, moreover, of exactly the same logic as unicorns, honour, nationality, and all that Foucaudian-Borgesian imperial catalogue of beautifully imaginary classifications.

This, of course, is hardly an original observation; but it is a significant one nevertheless. Moore goes on to discuss things that don’t exist in the sense ‘could not exist. Since imagination seems to be playing a large part in this narrative, I wonder if it would be possible to challenge this venerable philosophical concept, that of the logically impossible thing, as representing precisely a lack of imagination? Richard Taylor thinks ‘the idea of necessary non-existence, or better, impossible existence, presents little difficulty. We can apply this notion to anything such as a square circle, which is non existent by its very nature’. But it seems to me that it is only ever possible to talk of non-existence in particular, not general, terms. So we can say that a unicorn does not exist in the real world, but we cannot say that it is necessarily non-existent—for the genetic engineering to add wings to a white horse are only around the corner. Or less flippantly: we might say that a right-triangle whose two smaller angles do not add up to the right-angle at other corner is ‘necessarily non-existent’, relying on what seems to us the excellent Kantian basis that we have simply restated, in negative terms, the very definition of a right-triangle. But this won’t do; somebody will come along and point out that the angles of the right-trangle that can be drawn linking London, Bristol and Liverpool has less that 180-degrees because of the curvature of the earth. So we must say ‘ah, but I meant a right-angle drawn in a perfectly flat mathematical plane’, and by doing so we have taken the step away from the world as it actually is into the imaginary realm of pure mathematics. Or to put it another way: a kind of philosophical Maxwell’s demon, who comes up with ingenious exceptions to our proudly asserted logical impossibilities—a hairy-headed bald man (a bald man with a beard!), the present king of France (there is a man living in Switzerland who indeed claims that title as his right, believing the French Revolution legally illegitimate!), and so on—you can see the sort of thing I mean ... that such a kind of demon must be posited in the case of the statements about necessary impossibility. In the case of each exception, your instinct will be to correct the demon (‘by “hairy headed”, I mean somebody with a full head of hair on his crown, not a beard ...’ and the like), and the demon’s instinct, imp of perversity as this creature is, will be to pick holes, to come up with conceivable exceptions no matter how bizarre or impossible, and the asymptote of this mode of thinking will be: you end up specifying something so very precisely, so very particularly, that you are in effect performing a kind of photographic negative of Moore’s pointing at a tame tiger and saying ‘that is a tame tiger’: you will be in effect saying ‘this very particular, specific and individual thing is impossible.’

So, quite apart from the profound oddness of this, being driven to individual specificity in order to demonstrate non existence (‘it is this specific thing, the thing at which I am in a manner of speaking pointing, that does not exist...’) you end up removing the ‘necessary’ from the ‘necessary non-existence’. It is possible to specify the non-existence of individual items, but not of sets of things, except in the case where the set (‘the particular triangle I am imagining right now in my brain’) is a single-subject set.

Or to put it another way: to talk of the necessary non-existence of a multitudinous class of things is to say that these kind of things have never, do not and never will exist; which is in fact to say something about the limitation of your own imagination, not just in the sense that you are confessing to your inability to imagine hippogriffs, triangles whose angles do not add up to 180-degrees and so on, but in the meta sense that you cannot imagine a situation in which the rules of logic themselves do not obtain.

All this is trivial enough, in everyday terms; but gains a little intellectual traction, perhaps, as a gloss on the ‘existence’ portion of the ontological argument for God. When we talk about the existence of God, are we talking about the exist of something specific, or as the ‘set’ of God-things? Hmm; more on Moore, er, anon.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Amadis Loyola

According to Charles Williams (reviewing a history of the Jesuits in 1941), ‘it may almost be said that the origin of the Society of Jesus was Amadis de Gaul.’ He stresses the ‘Romantic’ origins of Ignatius Loyola. Since the Amadis is, in effect, a work of Fantasy, I see the connection.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Moon

The moon is its own coin.

The moon is its own ghost.

The moon is its own moon.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


What do you use for money?
What do you use for faith?
God, a one-two-three deity.
What do you use for utility?
Sparks! Sparks in everything!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Keats's Belle Dame

It has only just occurred to me (how slow am I?) that Keats's ‘Belle Dame' is the triple goddess. The clue is in the name: the beautiful young maiden (Belle), the mature matron (the Dame) and the old crone (the Beldame).

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


The Garden of Odin is a rather different place to the Garden of Eden.

Monday, 13 June 2011


King Arthur, the original from which later Arthurs are copied. If you like, he's the Ur-Arth.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Thought experiment

Let's say that religious beliefs became 'true' if and only if the believer also believed something untrue -- in the existence of Santa Claus, for instance. Would the benefit of have a true God to believe in outweigh the problem of believing something untrue? Might it be that the 'truth' of God is an all or nothing thing, dissolved by any untruth? Or would it be the case that the benefit of coming closer to God cancelled not only notional untruths in one's life (believing in Santa Claus might be naive, but it is hardly malign) but also actual evils: racist beliefs, genocidal beliefs, beliefs that cruelty and sadism must govern human interaction and so on?

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Hilaire Belloc's 'The Inn Of The Margeride' (from Hills and the Sea, 1906) starts with one of the most eloquent accounts of precisely the appeal of SF and Fantasy.
Whatever, keeping its proportion and form, is designed upon a scale much greater or much less than that of our general experience, produces upon the mind an effect of phantasy.

A little perfect model of an engine or a ship does not only amuse or surprise; it rather casts over the imagination something of that veil through which the world is transfigured, and which I have called "the wing of Dalua"; the medium of appreciations beyond experience; the medium of vision, of original passion and of dreams. The principal spell of childhood returns as we bend over the astonishing details. We are giants--or there is no secure standard left in our intelligence.

So it is with the common thing built much larger than the million examples upon which we had based our petty security. It has been always in the nature of worship that heroes, or the gods made manifest, should be men, but larger than men. Not tall men or men grander, but men transcendent: men only in their form; in their dimension so much superior as to be lifted out of our world. An arch as old as Rome but not yet ruined, found on the sands of Africa, arrests the traveller in this fashion. In his modern cities he has seen greater things; but here in Africa, where men build so squat and punily, cowering under the heat upon the parched ground, so noble and so considerable a span, carved as men can carve under sober and temperate skies, catches the mind and clothes it with a sense of the strange. And of these emotions the strongest, perhaps, is that which most of those who travel to-day go seeking; the enchantment of mountains; the air by which we know them for something utterly different from high hills. Accustomed to the contour of downs and tors, or to the valleys and long slopes that introduce a range, we come to some wider horizon and see, far off, a further line of hills. To hills all the mind is attuned: a moderate ecstasy. The clouds are above the hills, lying level in the empty sky; men and their ploughs have visited, it seems, all the land about us; till, suddenly, faint but hard, a cloud less varied, a greyer portion of the infinite sky itself, is seen to be permanent above the world. Then all our grasp of the wide view breaks down. We change. The valleys and the tiny towns, the unseen mites of men, the gleams or thread of roads, are prostrate, covering a little watching space before the shrine of this dominant and towering presence.

It is as though humanity were permitted to break through the vulgar illusion of daily sense, and to learn in a physical experience how unreal are all the absolute standards by which we build. It is as though the vast and the unexpected had a purpose, and that purpose were the showing to mankind in rare glimpses what places are designed for the soul--those ultimate places where things common become shadows and fail, and the divine part in us, which adores and desires, breathes its own air, and is at last alive.
I suppose it appeals to me because my own fiction is, or seems to be (since, believe me, I'm as surprised about this as you* are), so obsessed with shifts in scale of precisely this sort: from human beings to giants; from giant to microbe-sized beings; models, Big Dumb Objects, detailed sketches and plans of other SF fiction, and the like.

Friday, 10 June 2011

On Genius

Once upon a time a ‘genius’ was a supernatural creature that was not quite a god, and not quite a mortal. Nowadays ‘genius’ means a particular individual gift or talent, a facility for some activity that surpasses what might be achieved by mere diligence and practice. There are still shades of the original meaning in odd corners of popular culture (as in the fairy tale ‘genie’), but generally speaking the former meaning has been wholly supplanted by the latter.

The passage from the original to the present-day meaning is not so counterintuitive as it might seem. The Greeks thought daimones lived in the aerial space between our terrestrial locale and the aetherial existence of the gods; Socrates, for instance, explained what we nowadays would call his schizophrenic auditory hallucinations with reference to ‘something divine and daimoniacal’ that happened to him. This is in the Phaedrus [242 b-c]: ‘I hear a voice which, whenever it speaks to me, always forbids me from something I am about to do, and never instructs me to do something.’ Sometime in the late first-century AD Apuleius pondered this strange passage (in his ‘De Deo Socratis’), and he concluded that Socrates’ personal daimon was not something specific to the great philosopher. Rather, every one of us has been allotted a personal daimon; a being that attends to us as both witness to our lives and as some sort of guardian spirit. This, of course, is the idea Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy draws on, and why his daemons are called that. Under the rubric of its standard Latin translation, ‘genius’, the concept has had a very long life in the West.

It makes sense to me that the Romantics should take this notion of an external supernatural and guiding ‘genius’ and internalise it as the trope of their own literary abilities. This is, after all, to do nothing more than adapt the vocabulary to the long-standing idea of the writer as somebody Muse-inspired. Rather than nine Muses for the whole community of artists, we imagine every single person possessing their own Muse, and then this Muse becoming internalised. It’s a small step from there to the spreading-out of the concept such that it becomes a more general way of talking about any inspiration: Zidane’s footballing genius; the genius of the man who first thought to put bread on sale pre-sliced; that sort of thing.

What interests me here is whether this particular conceptual trajectory manifests a larger cultural logic. C S Lewis certainly thought so. In The Discarded Image he elaborates the history of the concept, and concludes:
To understand this process fully would be to grasp that great movement of internalisation, and that consequent aggrandisement of man and desiccation of the outer universe, in which the psychological history of the West has so largely consisted. [p.42]
Is this right? I’m asking two things there. The first: is Lewis correct when he says that the psychological history of the West has largely consisted of a great movement of internalisation? It’s an attractive thesis: once upon a time men and women thought the whole cosmos was sentient; now we no longer believe that the heavens are thronging with intelligent beings, nor that the stars and planets think. We see the cosmos now as gazillions (I use the number precisely) of miles of emptiness, with a few spits and spots of matter here and there. Sentience has shrunk by comparison, become wizened, for it’s only us now, little specks of intellect wandering through a wilderness of mere matter. In the face of this it might be thought inevitable that our attention will increasingly focus on that intelligence, in the only place we can find it; and that the study of ‘the cosmos’ in a larger sense would become an object of interest only to specialists and radioastronomers.

But the second part of Lewis’s judgement puzzles me: ‘that great movement of internalisation, and that consequence aggrandisement of man and desiccation of the outer universe …’ But can we really say that the Copernican revolution and the desacralization of the world involved an aggrandisement of man? I suppose Lewis says so because he prefers the older model: he believed that modern man’s rejection of God manifests a prideful self-importance.

Is he really saying that under the pre-Copernican logic human souls were somehow smaller, or were perceived to be smaller? Surely not. Desacralisation carries with it the withering away of ‘soul’ altogether. The universe we live in is so much more enormous than the Copernican one that it’s not possible for us to feel aggrandized within it. Lewis’s model seems to be that ‘spirit’ is a zero-sum quantity; that once the cosmos was full of it, and that since it is no longer we must have sucked it all up, like monstrous sponges; desiccating the vacuum of space and swelling like great toads.

What a strange notion.

I could be persuaded that the history of the West has been one of a process of conceptual internalisation. I can believe, for instance, that there was a characteristic Ancient cast of mind such that, when it saw similarities between things in the world (three chairs here, three chairs there) would assume with Plato that those similarities were somehow out there in the real world, and not just in the observing consciousness. But it seems to me that the modern, internalised understanding of that recognition of similarity (that it’s my pattern-making mind, not the world as such) is the exact opposite of an aggrandisement. The aggrandisement is in projecting yourself onto the world around you, such that you believe it shares your joys and fears, that it cares whether you act well or badly. What greater fantasy of omnipotence can there be than the thought that a powerful supernatural being has been specifically delegated to attend to me? To note my every burp and fidget, to hang on my every mumbled word, to protect me and watch me as if fascinated?

Which makes me wonder. If we talk of Zidane’s genius we don’t picture a supernatural being invisibly attending him, helping him balance and give his left foot that extra shove to make the ball fly faster and straighter. Nor, if we talk about the genius of Derek Walcott, do we picture (Robert Graves notwithstanding) him literally inspired by an actual Muse. Yet, if the commentators are to be believed, more people in America today believe quite literally in angels than at any time in the past. There is a broad spread of African cultures that support beliefs in supernatural figures of both good and evil type. Islam countenances devils and angels in its worldview. Is there an insufficiency of internalisation at work, I wonder?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Holy Musical Books

Familiarity perhaps blunts us to the oddness of the fact that it is three intertextually related books are the starting points for religions which now claim as followers more than half the global population. What I mean is that it’s odd that the visual arts and musical texts have not generated similar bodies of faith. Don’t works of music move us and inspire us just as much as works of writing? Indeed I’d say that, traditionally, music has enjoyed a greater reputation for putting the human listener in touch with numinous, transcendent or metaphysical states of mind. Yet no religion, to my knowledge, has been predicated on a sacred musical text or a sacred visual artefact. Naturally, music has often been written in the service of religious practice, from Mozart’s Requiem and Taverner’s Akathist of Thanksgiving, from hymns to Christian pop. Similarly the visual arts have been marshalled with great vigour and often great success to the service of religion, from church frescoes and stained glass to rich and lengthy traditions of sculpture and painting. But this is not the same thing. However often works of music and works of visual art have been fashioned as adjuncts to religion, but no religion has been founded in the first instance upon a work of music or a work of visual art. Books, for some reason, are different. Why?

The salient detail here is the fact of mere bookishness; which is to say not necessarily the fact of Great Book-ishness. It so happens that the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament are great works of literature, consistently striking, powerful, poetic, uplifting. But this is not, it seems, a necessary prerequisite of a founding religious text. Some very widespread religions, belief-structures held sincerely by millions, have been founded on excessively feeble books: the Mormon testament, for instance, which reads as a thin pastiche of King James’s Bible, or the dreadful writing of L Ron Hubbard, patched together from orts and scraps of Pulp SF and the discourses of popular self-help, but which have nonetheless inspired and continue to inspire many hundreds of thousands. Whatever it is that fills peoples souls with joy and meaning, it is not (it seems) literary or aesthetic quality in and of itself.

It's worth contemplating the counterfactual, I think. Why aren’t there widespread religions founded upon a markworthy visual artefact, or a stirring piece of music? Why do the musical and visual arts follow after religion, rather than--as is the case with the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran--determining religious faith in the first place? I’m interested in this question precisely not because I’m religious; because literature, music and art play so large a part in my life.

Ideas are important for human minds, but the visual arts are clumsy at expressing ideas. Ideas expressed in iconographic form are famously subject to misinterpretation. And music expresses almost no ideas at all. What music and the visual arts are good at is the affective: the emotional, stirring, exciting, moving, cheering, depressing and calming registers of the aesthetic experience. Written art can do these things as well of course—perhaps not so all-embracingly as music or the visual arts, but nonetheless—but words are really the only medium for the thoughtful, intellectual, metaphysical and ideational registers. I’m tempted to deduce from this that religion, so central a facet of social and individual human experience, derives in the first instance from the intellectual rather than the emotional requirements of homo sapiens. But that is so striking and peculiar a sentence that my fingers almost rebel against typing it: because whilst (of course) it is true that religions offer people intellectual and even metaphysical satisfactions it has become almost a dogma of recent theological studies that the religious experience very specifically is not reducible to and indeed goes beyond rational discourse. Many people, religious and otherwise, would concede that science provides us, by and large, with better intellectual explanations of the world in which we find ourselves than do religions. But Faith, it seems, does not seek to compete with Science on those terms. For instance, it concerns the sort of experience we can summarise with a word, ‘mystery’, a word which carries with it profound and particular theological connotations. But ‘mystery’ is better captured by music and the visual arts: by the music of John Taverner or the pietas art of the Christian tradition—better captured precisely because these forms of art need not be too specific in their construction.

Indeed, there are artists who have considered this question of the mystery of (say) creation and have come down on the side of music rather than a verbal legislative programme. J R R Tolkien, a very religious individual of Catholic-Christian stripe, created an imaginary cosmos which he figured as sung into existence. This is where the Silmarillion begins: Tolkien’s fictive God and angels singing a beautiful harmony, which in turn becomes materialised as Middle Earth. The original Evil enters the picture when Morgorth (Tolkien’s Lucifer) departs from the harmony to sing his own song, creating a dissonance in the divine music. C S Lewis, Tolkien’s pal, did something similar in one of his Narnia books (The Magician’s Nephew, of course). These are both touching and effective pieces of imaginative writing, but it’s just hard to see how such a cosmogony would work, given that music lacks the referential specificity to be able (say) to separate out water and land, or conjure animals and plants. A God who says Let There Be Light is one thing. We can understand that the utterance will lead to Light. But a God who whistles a pleasant melody? What sort of specific creation would follow from that?

Another way of putting this would be to say: religion manages to elide on the one hand a need for iron specificity and on the other the requirement not to be too literally or deadeningly specific. The letter killeth, after all. It is the spirit that keepeth alive. Or again: if we said of any statute law ‘this law captures and celebrates the essential mystery at the heart of justice’ then we’d in effect be saying it was a bad law. The purpose of law is to be as precise and unambiguous as possible. We maintain enormous and ruinously expensive social structures (courts, judges, lawyers) to mill Law as fine as it can be milled precisely for this purpose.

But it seems to me, from my outsider’s perspective (and setting aside, for a moment, the centres of barmy religious fundamentalism, populous though they be) that for many believers nowadays religion is no longer the Law. Religion is no longer statutes, but a melody, an aesthetic numinous in excess of the rational. It could be argued that the Christian holy text includes two, rather incompatible, myths of creation, as many many students of Bible have pointed out. In Genesis the world is shaped, moulded or sculpted into existence by a hands-on creator—a world first illuminated, then landscaped, a world, in other words, that is primordially sculpture (visual and palpable). John, on the other hand, insists that the world begins with the logos, verbally, that the world and God Himself is of a type with God’s holy book: in short, that it is literature. The Christian saviour, Jesus, shares this double identity. He is a carpenter, a practitioner of the plastic arts, a guy who heals people by laying on his hands. But he is also a story-teller, a shaper of parables and prayers. Christianity, in other words, elaborates a myth balanced between the sculptural and the verbal.

But surely Christianity as a religion is premised on the word, and not on the plastic arts? Imagine a particularly fine and aesthetically inspiring table, made by Jesus himself, paraded around the Mediterranean in the middle years of the first century AD. Imagine that the sheer physical beauty of this artefact converts millions, and eventually billions, to the faith. Surely this is an absurd supposition. But why should it be?

To be clear: I’m not talking about the medieval tradition of (in effect) worshipping shreds of Christ’s body or fragments of his cross: for those, like altar pieces or stained glass windows, are post, not prior, to the faith. I’m trying to make a different point. It is, I think, inconceivable that somebody could be moved heart and soul to give up their lives to Christ on the basis on some blood liquefying in a vial without the contextualising literary superstructure of gospel and myth. Can we imagine any non-literary artwork so profound that it would move people to give up their previous beliefs and adhere to a new god?

I’m not sure we can. Moreover it is something specifically abdured by both Christianity and Islam (I mean the worship of artworks, something which known as ‘idolatory’ and supposed to be injurious to the soul and the prospects of post-mortem reward). Worshipping the word is a different matter. There is a broad and long-standing Islamic tradition of extreme reverence for the actual material body of the Koran, the paper upon which the holy words are printed, as well as for the meaning of those words.

Is music a different case? Can we imagine a piece of instrumental music upon which a functioning religion could be premised? But I don’t think we can. For instance: a piece of music, composed by Christ himself, is played in many locations around the Mediterranean in the middle years of the first century AD, and the sheer physical beauty of this harmony converts millions, and eventually billions, to the faith.

I'm grateful to Bill Benson for drawing my attention to this foreword, written by Martin Luther’s to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae (a collection of chorale motets published in 1538):
I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them.... In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits ... Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God. However, when man’s natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.
The point, bracing Germanic rudeness aside, is that music like the verbal arts (but -- as the bower bird teaches us -- unlike the plastic arts) separates us from the beasts. Luther goes on:
If one sings diligently with skill and application, then music can make man good and at peace with himself and his fellows by providing him a view of beauty. Music drives away the devil and makes people happy; it induces one to forget all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and other vices, quia pacis tempore regnat musica (for music reigns in times of peace).
John Emerson adds a fascinating datum: 'music is processed through a track of its own. Aspergers people, for example, are oblivious to himan relationships and have a flattened affect, but their appreciation of music is undamaged'. He cites Discovering my Autism: Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1999) by Edgar Schneider. In this memoir, Schneider 'explains how in order to experience "emotions" such as grief, sympathy or desire, he must intellectualise or aestheticise them. Dispassionately, he examines his difficulties with relationships, his high pain threshold, his lack of concentration and his highly absorbant intelligence, all of which are related to his autism. He also describes the pleasure he derives from art, music and literature [and] the importance to him of his religious beliefs.'

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Ernest Nagel's "A Defense of Atheism" (in Paul Edwards and Arthur Pap, eds., A Modern Introduction to Philosophy (New York: The Free Press, 1965), 461-3) argues that 'in the first place, atheism is not necessarily an irreligious concept for theism is just one among many views concerning the nature and origin of the world. The denial of theism is logically compatible with a religious outlook upon life, and is, in fact, characteristic of some of the great historical religions.' He goes on, by way of definition, to say that 'atheism is not to be identified with sheer unbelief, or with disbelief in some particular creed of a religious group,' adding that 'atheism as a philosophical position is directed against any form of theism, and has its origin and basis in a logical analysis of the theistic position and in a comprehensive account of the world believed to be wholly intelligible without the adoption of a theistic position.' The fable is that Peter denied God three times but eventually came round to accepting him. A deeper possibility, I suppose, is that this acceptance could only happen as a consequence of the earlier denial, not in the tick-tock sense that denial leads to its opposite, but in the fuller sense that denial of God is the actuality of accepting God.

There's a related sense in which Dawkins’ much-maligned God Delusion touches on this question: one of Dawkins' strongest arguments, it seems to me, is that disbelief in gods is the great point of human commonality. That I am, personally, an atheist certainly does not disqualify me from talking about religion. Without exception, every intelligent Christian and Muslim I have ever met has been emphatically atheist with respect to almost all the forty-thousand gods humanity has worshipped at one time or another. Atheism – a refusal to be credulous, a proper intellectual scepticism and dialectical open-mindedness – seems to me the default position of the healthy, sapient psyche. My intelligent Christian friend and I concur in our atheism concerning animistic tree-spirits, the river Scamandar, the divine Emperor Augustus, Wotan, Quezocoatl, Cthulu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Of course, we disagree on one specific example: the Christian trinity, which my friend believes divine and which I do not. But to worship the Christian trinity and not to worship the divine Emperor Augustus is, in part, to predicate one's faith on selective atheism.

Or to put it another way. Leafing through old copies of Journal of Theological Studies, as I like to do, I came upon this quotation from David Pailin, (April 1997):
Examination of the content and status of claims about the reality of God has led some theologians to conclude, to the surprise (and annoyance) of many believers, that religion will only have a healthy future if it abandons such claims. For them, as Alasdair MacIntyre once put it, ‘understanding Christianity is incompatible with believing in it’ because its ‘form of belief … has lost the social context which once made it comprehensible.’
Because the crowd I hang out with includes a lot of university people, many religiously observant ones included, I’d say the religious people I know would tend, in my experience, to endorse this statement. Certainly, they find Dawkins’s attack on religion to be irrelevant to, or crudely misrepresentative of, their own praxis and beliefs. But I find it hard to believe that most of the world’s 4 billion religious humans (not just the fundamentalists, neither) would find such a claim acceptable. For them the reality of God is surely a simple truth. It’s the difference, there, between the “…has led some theologians to conclude…” and the “… to the surprise (and annoyance) of many believers”.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

People Trust Atheists Least Of All

Woman, as John Lennon once put it, is the nigger of the world. But atheists, according to Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerteis and Douglas Hartmann ('Atheists as "Other": Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society', American Sociological Review 71:2 2006, 211-234) are currently, at least in America, an even more comprehensively abjected group:
Despite the declining salience of divisions among religious groups, the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in America remains strong. This article examines the limits ofAmericans' acceptance of atheists. Using new national survey data, it shows atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. This distrust of atheists is driven by religious predictors, social location, and broader value orientations. It is rooted in moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or material, grounds. We demonstrate that increasing acceptance of religious diversity does not extend to the nonreligious, and present a theoretical framework for understanding the role of religious belief in providing a moral basis for cultural membership and solidarity in an otherwise highly diverse society.
The shift from 'ethnic and material' to 'moral and symbolic' logics is particularly interesting here; since atheism is not identified with any particular ethnic or national groups. But there is also, presumably, a sense in which atheism is the necessary abjection of any predominantly religious community; the apparent contradiction of the collective ethos that secretly speaks to its hidden fears and anxieties.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Gravelly Run

A. R. Ammons' 'Gravelly Run' begins with a fairly straightforwardly updated Wordsworthianism:
I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:
J. T. Barbarese ('Theology for Atheists: Reading Ammons', Journal of Modern Literature 2003, 80) considers this 'one of the most beautiful passages in late twentieth-century American poetry'; but I think the truer beauty, and the more piercing moment, in the poem comes later, the shift from the emphasis on the holy passivity of self in nature, to the realisation of the chill indifference of nature to us, and indeed of the cosmos to nature:
so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.
The sunlight, indeed, has never heard of trees.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Reading Mary Midgley on the dietary prohibitions in Leviticus (specifically reading "A Bird, a Mouse, a Frog, and Some Fish: A New Reading of Leviticus 11," in Literary Imagination, Ancient and Modern: Essays in Honor of David Grene, ed. Todd Breyfogle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 110-126):
The listed species are not forbidden because they in any way arouse revulsion or because their nasty habits serve for moral allegories. Rather the list must be read as part of a larger doctrine about living beings, human and animal, and their place in the scheme of creation. Comparative religion shows that usually when gods impose dietary rules upon their worshippers, an animal is not forbidden as food because there is anything wrong wih the animal, anything abhorrent or disgusting about it. Rather, the animal turns out to have featured in the mythology as a strong or talented being which has tendered a service to the god, or in some prehistoric exchange a human ancestor incurred a debt of great magnitude to the ancestor of an animal species. [111]
Fair enough; although her conclusion in this essay -- that we need to read the list of prohibitions in Leviticus not as singling out 'unclean' and loathly animals, but as a kind of photographic negative, a filter through which some (very few) 'edible' animals drop through; and these in turn are a compromise, since the Levitical authors ideally wanted Jews to eat no animals ('...however, the religion of Leviticus was a religion for all the people f Israel, not for a class of devoted monks. It was for practical life. Consequently it is not surprising that the book does not forbid all animal killing', 125). This may or may not strike you as persuasive; but her emphasis on the 'purity' of fertility -- as a central part of God's covenant with the Israelites -- and the fact that it is the most 'fertile' creatures (insects, seafood and so on) that are forbidden under these dietary laws is suggestive.

She doesn't talk about the New Testament, of course; but her point that in almost all religious traditions 'an animal is not forbidden as food because there is anything wrong wih the animal but because the animal turns out to have featured in the mythology as a strong or talented being which has tendered a service to the god' can hardly not make the reader think of Christ. Jews are forbidden to even name their God; Christians are specifically required not just to name Him, but (like a butcher) to scalpel him into three component parts, and eat him up, body and blood. If Jewish dietary law says: eat only these very few animals, the Pauline Christian revelation that all animals could be eaten -- including God. Or more precisely, that all animals could be eaten, but God must be.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


Diarmaid MacCulloch ('Rome's New Wave', LRB 2 June 2011) notes the Dark Age vogue for the Christian 'chi-ro' rebus:
This striking device, with no precedent in scripture or early Christian tradition, became an all-pervasive symbol of Imperial Christianity in the fourth century, appearing on the small change of imperial coinage ... [as well as] scratched on tiles, or as an ornament on silver dishes ...
The cross, particularly in its diagonalised format, has something of the headless Vitruvian about it: am emblem of humanity, God's and ours (Christ's incarnation and our redemption). But a headless body is not much of a body; and the ro adds not only a head but a splendidly exaggerated male member too: the sword of the lord, the phallus of grace. No wonder it caught on.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Poetry and Strength

How rarely does poetry construe a Wordsworthian 'strength' nowadays? Tossed on the horns of either a Tedhughesian strength-as-cruelty or a Sylviaplathian instrospection-as-weakness ...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Queer Faust

Faust was gay? Ah, apparently so: amongst the very few documents to do with the life of the historical Dr. Johann Georg Faust (1480 – c. 1540) is a proclamation by the Mayor of Nürnberg, dated 1532, to "deny free passage to the great nigromancer and sodomite Doctor Faustus" ('Doctor Faustus, dem großen Sodomiten und Nigromantico in furt glait ablainen').

What interests me is that nobody (so far as I'm aware) has followed through the implications of this. When I've time I'll write a story called 'Queer Faust', in which the famous three-part contract Faust agrees with the devil is revealed in its true colours. Faust asks for the most beautiful woman in the world; but no actual woman emobodies the perfection of beauty, since they all necessarily fall into the mutability of physical incarnation: the 'most beautiful woman' is defined as the woman more beautiful than all women, which in turns is revealed to mean: a man. Faust asks to live forever, and the Devil reveals the true nature of this request, which is to circumvent life and death altogether; to avoid the trap of generation, fertility, childbirth and its necessary correlatives of decay and death. Faust asks to rule the world, and the Devil reminds him that all the councils and cabals of Earthly power, from princely conclaves to Freemason lodges, are the exclusive privileges of manhood.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


People debates whether Economics is a science. Hard to deny, though, that 'Science' is, in a deep sense, an economics.