Sunday, 31 July 2011

Pastoral Epistles 4: Women

It forces us to think again about the urge to unified cognitive consonance in our readings of the Bible: the desire to make everything fit together into a seamless conceptual whole. That many people attempt to do this with a text as varied, in terms of provenance and content, as ‘The Bible’ is already a strange thing, amounting almost to hubris. But it speaks to something important about human nature. For example: to read the pastoral epistles is almost inevitably to attempt to encompass their myriad laws and strictures about how to be a Christian without sacrificing our collective sense of how to be a human being in the 21st-century. Here’s one stumbling point, familiar enough from other Pauline writing:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was no deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. [1 Tim 2:8-15]
This passage entails cognitive dissonance in much of the Christian west, where the role of woman is no longer so oppressively or restrictively defined. One way of reconciling this is to revert to an old fashioned conception of sexual politics. This is the approach taken by some churches and societies, those called (oddly, it's always seemed to me) ‘fundamentalist’. Another way is to downgrade or mentally erase this passage from one’s understanding of the gospel (as it might be: prayer is good, but there’s no need for women to be submissive). Both these strategies, though, have their problematic aspects. The Conservative might say to the liberal believer: picking and choosing amongst which verses to believe and which not cannot avoid arbitrariness. The liberal might reply: such picking and choosing is an unavoidable part of reading these gospels—for the same Conservative who insists on the general submissiveness of women, or who fulminates against outspoken contemporary feminism, simply is not outraged in the same way by women who have their hair in pigtails, who wear a gold cross around their necks or who put on their ‘Sunday best’ to attend church. (The Liberal might add: it is better to be clear about the ideological preconceptions that shape how we pick and choose scripture: in this case, the open ideological belief that women are equal to men as against the hidden ideological belief that they are inferior. But this is to move in a different direction). One answer, we might think, would be to live with a scrupulously orthodox attitude to everything the Bible says; and there are, of course, people who attempt this. But the attempt is undermined by its own commitment to inclusiveness. In this passage, for instance, women are abdured that ‘silence and submissiveness’ is the route to learning; but the reason for this is state of affairs is that a woman, Eve, was ‘deceived’ by Satan. To put this another way: the virtuous thing is for women to do what they are told by masculine authority, without disputing or challenging it; and this is a necessary state of affairs because of the very great wickedness performed by one woman, a long time ago, when she did what a male power told her to do, without disputing or challenging it.

The larger form of this problematic is that the New Testament lays down a great number of specifically lettered instructions whilst at the same time telling its readers to ignore the letter and concentrate on the spirit of the text (the letter kills, the spirit keeps alive). In the case of 1 Tim 2:8-15, the insistence on the subordination of women is actually a statement about the grounds of instructional insistence. How can we know the validity of this passage unless we test it, question and challenge it? But how can question and challenge the authority of this passage when the passage itself, and the Epistles as a whole, instruct us not to question and challenge authority? Of all catches, this is the twenty-secondest-ist.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Pastoral Epistles 3: Coat

One thing I love about the second Timothy epistle is the way it ends with ‘bring me my coat’.
Do your best to come to me soon ... When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.’ [2 Tim 4:9-13]
Houlden thinks this is all part of an effort by the actual author of the epistle to add-in plausible Pauline detail by way of passing his forgery (pious or malicious) as the real thing. But the coat is a striking detail, nonetheless: coat, books, parchment. These latter (membranai) are the crucial thing (‘above all’); except that the cloak has precendence. More to the point, the cloak is also a kind of membrane. Perhaps the important thing about the membranum is that it seals us away and protects us; not that it carries upon itself certain marks and scribbles and letters?

Friday, 29 July 2011

Pastoral Epistles 2: Lists

The lists in the pastoral epistles are interesting things. They give, rather, the impression of a cascade of ungodly practice, disposed into text as they occurred to the author; but perhaps some diminuendo or (surely more likely) some crescendo effect is intended. Here’s one:
Understand this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. [1 Tim 1:9-10]
Since we can hardly help ranking potential sin by severity, and since lying is almost inevitably going to be less wicked than matricide, we might take this as a diminuendo; although that in turn runs the risk of creating a kind of rhetorical anticlimax. The effect, of course, might be intentional: which is to say, the list is a kind of sieve, through which we sift our own wickedness. As we read we move from thinking ‘well, at least I have not murdered my mother!’ to thinking ‘yes, yes, I have lied, I am a sinner’; although rhetorically speaking that’s rather vitiated by the inclusion of general categories (‘immoral persons’) slap in the middle. Here’s another list:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. [2 Tim 3:1-5]
This feels like a list that is building up to something: human foibles and venalities acquire rhetorical intensity by a kind of aggregation of wickedness in its manifold iterations, until we reach a mode of unforgiveable core hypocrisy: the whited sepulchre, the person who performs religion without really believing it. The climax, though, sets up peculiar rhetorical tourbillions. If it implies that the worst thing is the person who holds the forms of religion but denies the power of it, then does it not also imply the possibility (if no more than that) of the opposite holding?  That the ideal to which we must aspire is to recognise the power of religion whilst abandoning its form? This, in a phrase, would be the ‘atheist’s apology for Christianity’.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Pastoral Epistles 1: Faith and Doubt

1 and 2 Timothy, plus Titus, are known as ‘the Pastoral Epistles’; pastoral in the sense of duties of care and church governance (by ‘pastors’) rather than having any rural focus. To start with a striking bit of a passage from 2 Timothy 2: 11-13:
The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
If we endure, we shall also reign with him;
If we deny him, he will also deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
This seems to me a very interesting little passage. It starts out affirming what is now common currency of Christian belief: that through death Christ won eternal life, and that for his followers to die in his name is to guarantee their eternal life and reign. The main point here, clearly, is to stress ‘faithfulness’, or more specifically our need to remain faithful to God and Christ: to endure in our faith even if it leads to our death. This embodies what we might call the familiar form of Christian paradox—that only in death can we have life. This is to say, it is one of the textual functions of the New Testament to force us to reappraise what we think we mean when we say ‘life’ and ‘death’ – for instance, that life without Christ doesn’t really amount to life at all (from values ranging for ‘empty and banal’ right up to Coleridge’s horribly vivid phrase ‘nightmare life in death’); where conversely dying in the Christian faith is actually fully to come alive. We might put it this way: life and death only seem to be opposite terms; in fact the setting of the two in spiritual dialectic reveals profound truths about what it means to be ‘alive’. But faith is a different matter: the writer of the pastoral epistles takes faith as a straightforward value, to be upheld; there is no equivalent spiritual dialectic for faith and doubt here, in the way that there is for life and death. On the contrary, these epistles are shot through with a sens of faith as an absolute, and unfaith as an uncomplicated wickedness. 1 Timothy starts with the withering report of ‘certain persons who have made a shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme’ [1 Tim 1:19-20]; and repeatedly the author stresses the wickedness of ‘missing the mark in faith.’ The stress is on heretical misbelieving, rather than (as it might be) unbelief; but that only makes these three lines more puzzling:
If we deny him, he will also deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
My first thought is that the second element here strikes a note consonant with much of contemporary Christianity (a common-enough Christian rebuke to atheists is: ‘you may not believe in God, but He believes in you!’), although it is phrased in a rather striking way ... as if to say that God’s faith in mankind is actually nothing more than a faith in himself. But what leaps out is the way this sentiment, taken as a whole, seems to contradict what immediately precedes it. One way of glossing the passage would be: ‘if you have no faith in God then He will have no faith in you; but if you have no faith in God he will have faith in you.’ And that comes over as merely contradictory. Is this the faith-doubt dialectical I earlier suggested had no part in the pastoral epistles, in (as it were) meta form? Perhaps this encourages us to quibble on the distinction between ‘denying’ God and ‘lacking faith in’ God; or perhaps—to quote from J L Houlden’s commentary on this passage—we need to import a temporal element to our reading:
On the face of it, v. 12b and v.13a contradict each another, and v.13b seeks to elucidate the matter by providing a paradox. But it is partly a matter of “when”: if we deny him, he will deny us—at the Last Day; on the other hand, our faithlessness does not deter God from faithfulness to his covenant and his purpose, chiefly now. It is also a matter of “who”: v.12b has in mind the individual believer and his fate; v.13a the purpose of God for his people in general. [Houlden, The Pastoral Epistles (Penguin 1976), 119]
But by seeking to rationalise the conceptual gnarliness of this passage, Holden defangs it. Inserting ‘time’ into the sentiment seems to me an arbitrary move (temporally speaking, the structure of the sentiment is surely that of a straightforward ‘if you do x now, then y will be your future reward’). And the notion that the passage draws an implicit distinction between individuals and ‘people in general’ leads to some very queer thinking: ‘if you as an individual have no faith in God then He will have no faith in you as an individual; but on the other hand, if humanity as a whole has no faith in God he will have faith in humanity as a whole.’ How would that work, exactly?

Looking at this passage again: ‘if we have died with him, we shall also live with him’ looks like a paradox, although what we might call a ‘simple’ one (one, indeed, central to the Christ story). ‘If we endure, we shall also reign with him’ has nothing paradoxical about it; it describes a cosmos where action A (keeping faith) leads directly to action B (reward). The sentiment then shifts about; for ‘if we deny him, he will also deny us’ has the same straightforward causal look about it; elevating Auden’s icy phrase, ‘those to whom evil are done/Do evil in return’ to a spiritual and cosmic plane. Since the faith we are being exhorted to uphold is precisely that Christ has paradoxically superposed death and life, this at the least follows on. It is, then, the final that looks anomalous: ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.’

What strikes me is that the final element (v.13b) brings in an element not of ‘Last Days’, or of distinctions between the individual and the group, but of choice. God keeps faith with us because he cannot do otherwise; it is, to drop (inappropriately of course) Kantian terms, a synthetic truth. Perhaps there’s even a sense that, once death has been undone and turned into another kind of life, then what follows (good service leads to reward; faithlessness will be repaid by faithlessness; God cannot deny God) is merely the iteration of an A=A logical flatness.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Verne Sequels 1

For two pins I'd actually write one of these. Really, I would. Today, Verne Sequel 1.

Journey Beyond The Centre of the Earth. Professor Lidenbrock, and his nephew, Axel, have spent forty years attempting to replicate their journey into the Earth's interior; but without success. Volcanic activity at Snæfellsjökull has blocked that point of entry, and none of the other possible modes of ingress have proved fruitful. Worse, science itself -- including Lidenbrock's own studies -- seem to contradict the very possibility of their ever having existed subterranean chambers, oceans and forms of life, such as they encountered on their first adventure: the interior below a certain level appears to be wholly molten with extreme heat. Lidenbrocke despairs, becomes withdrawn, doubts his own sanity. But then, one day in the summer of 1913, a man called Arnold Saknuss (MA) presents himself at Lidenbrock's Hamburg apartments. He convinces the elderly scientist that his previous expedition really happened, and that he really encountered those megalosauri -- but that the explanation for their presence is far stranger than he could have imagined. 'The forces at the centre of the earth are profound, the stresses enormous, and the powers not only of gravity and pressure but radiation and magnetism combine at that spot. Under this assault, the textus of reality itself sometimes ruptures. I have reason to believe that this happened half a century ago.' 'Amazing,' gasped Lidenbrocke. 'And what form does this rupture take?' 'We must keep in mind,' said Mr Saknuss, 'that the earth is continually rotating, and that this generates tremendous shearing pressures in the four great forces that all come to bear on the central punctus. I believe there have been ruptures before, but that they have healed themselves. But this time I believe the damage is more profound. What you are your fellow subterranean voyagers encountered, I believe, was a bubble from within the rupture.' 'Astonishing!' 'Think of it as a caul, as is sometimes attached to the scalp of a newborn', Saknuss went on. 'Thrown out from this geological, spatio-temporal birth canal, and containing within it a trillion tonnes of salt water, not to mention the leviathans that therin dwell.' 'And has it now been withdrawn into the rupture?' 'Who can say?' growled Saknuss, clapping his hands to his chest in frustration. 'I cannot be sure, but I do not believe so. I tend to believe that the immense heat and pressures within the globe simply destroyed it. Boiled the ocean to steam, and annihilated the lifeforms within it.' 'But,' put in Axel, 'to insert a trillion tonnes of superheat steam into the lower strata of the earth's rocks ... ' 'Exactly!' cried Saknuss, leaping to his feet in a sudden frenzy. 'Exactly! The terrible tragedy of Krakatoa -- 1883 -- never been explained! The world geological disaster the world has seen since Pompeii, and nobody can explain it. Not even the new sciences of vulcanology and geology have an answer. But I do: the collapse of this massive caul, and its contents of primordial water, thrust through from some place beyond the centre of the earth -- the same place you and your companions explored -- I believe it collapsed in the early months of that year, devoured by the intolerable heat of the inner earth. Trillions of tonnes of superheated steam were forcibly injected into the rock strata, deep below, and the rocks bulged and strained and Krakatoa was one consequence.' 'There were others?' 'In 1887 the Yellow River in Imperial China flooded, drowning well over a million souls. Nobody can explain where all the excess water originated -- but I can.  I alone know whence this water came, finally seeping up and finding emission through the porous strata of the plains southeast of the Himalayas ...'

They were silent. 'It's incredible,' whispered Lidenbrocke. 'What is truly incredible,' said Saknuss, 'is the fact that it is happening again. I have reason to believe the rupture has opened a second time, and a much larger caul have been forced out, one that is bulging and stretching from the centre of the Earth all the way from centre to surface. I do not know what it contains, not yet. But we must find out, for the fate of the Earth as a whole could depend upon it. We must find out what it contains -- but we must do more, and travel beyond the Earth's centre to the source of this material. We must do it, or the world will not last long enough for our children to inherit!"' 'Yes, by all the sacred colours!' cried Lidenbrocke, forgetting his age and infirmity and leaping from his own seat. 'We must do it!'

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Religions of history, nature and contemplation

Roland Bainton, The Penguin History of Christianity (volume 1, 1967), 9:
Judaism is a religion of history and as such may be contrasted with both religions of nature and religions of contemplation. Religions of nature discover God in the surrounding universe; for example, in the orderly course of the heavenly bodies, or more frequently in teh recurring cycle of withering and resurgence of vegetation. This cycle is interpreted as the dying and rising of a god in whose experience the devotee can sgare through various ritual acts, and thus become divine and immortal. For such a religion the past is not important, since the cycle of teh seasons is the same one year as the next. Religions of contemplation, at the other pole, regard the physical world as an impediment to the spirit which, abstracted from the things of sense, must rise by contemplation to union with the divine. The sense of time itself is to be transcended, so that here again history is of no import. But religions of history, like Judaism, discover God "in his mighty acts among the children of men". Such a religion is a compound of memory and hope. It looks backward to what God has already done ... [and it] looks forward with faith: remembrance is a reminder that God will not forsake his own.
When you look at it like that (insightfully expressed, I'd say) it's quite surprising that it is the religion of history -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam -- that have so dominate human life. Because the problematic is quite a large one: if God intervenes in human history at a certain point in time, what about all the people who happened to be born and die before then? Religions of nature and contemplation can embrace them easily; religions of history must necessarily come to terms with the ruthlessness of history. History, after all, is famously a winners' discourse; what about the losers? Calling them (say) virtuous pagans, or pretending they simply don't exist, jars awkwardly with Christian and Islamic emphases on the excluded, the underdog and the poor.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Desmond Stewart's The Foreigner (1981) is 'A Search For the First Century Christ': a non-fiction (or minimally fictive) account of one possible Jesus -- a 'foreigner' because he grew up in Egypt. Stewart argues he may have been an Alexandrian Jew, who came back to Judea with a strongly Egyptianised, and therefore Hellenized, version of Jewish religion. For instance, he thinks he absorbed elements of 'wholesome sun worship' from Egyptian Hellenism; and that his words from the cross (Eli, eli, lama sabacthani) were actually addressed to elie, elie, the unaspirated vocative of Helios, the sun.

Me, I've sometimes wondered whether he wasn't calling on Elijah (that is, Elias):
In the Gospel of Luke, Herod Antipas hears some of the stories surrounding Jesus. Some tell Herod that John the Baptist, whom he had executed, has come back to life. Others tell him that it is Elijah. Later in the same gospel, Jesus asks his disciples who the people say that he is. The apostles' answer includes Elijah among others. However, Jesus' ministry had little in common with that of Elijah; in particular, he preached the forgiveness of one's enemies, while Elijah killed his. Miracle stories similar to those of Elijah were associated with Jesus (e. g. raising of the dead, miraculous feeding) ... During Jesus' crucifixion, some of the onlookers wonder if Elijah will come to rescue him, as by the time of Jesus, Elijah had entered folklore as a rescuer of Jews in distress.
This is based on the fanciful notion that Christ not only saw himself as a new Elijah, but saw the prophet as a kind of alter ego.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Rue Poem

Strew on her roses, roses,
And never a spray of rue.
In quiet she reposes:
Ah! would that I did too! [Arnold]

I could pass no further along the road
‘I’m English,’ I said. The next thing said
Was: ‘Are you? Are you? Are you?’

Can add the ‘e’ ourselves.
The regret that roadblocks atonement
Is always precisely a third of the whole.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Why Do We Call It A Riddle?

We call it a riddle because it rids us of something; and what it rids us of is precisely our investment in the foresquare, straightforwardness of comprehension. The world is not simple.

Friday, 22 July 2011

There are two kinds of

This from an imaginary review: How To Write Science Fiction: To Change The World First Make Your World (Pwr, 2014):
There are two kinds of people in the world ... no really, there are; this goes deep back into our evolutionary past. On the one hand there are hunter/gatherers, the primordial ape-state of humanity. And on the other there are farmers. Moreover, you already know (almost certainly without having to think about it for five minutes) to which group you belong: whether (however much you have become habituated to sedentary Western civilised living) your gut-instinct is to range out and find what you need, or settle-in and cultivate your homestead. Writers need to know this more than most, because a person actualises their authentic being-in-the-world by the way they write. Either they bed-in, build their world, cultivate it as a garden, assiduously (perhaps even cautiously) accrete their writing around themselves and their own ego. Or they launch themselves out there: range widely through the world (or, through the world of the text: into the writing of others, for instance), tracking down what they need, gathering each trouvé with a sense of satisfaction, and making their writing with a fluid, open-ended sense of seeking. The danger the 'farmer' writer faces is stagnation; the danger the 'hunter-gatherer' writer faces is larceny (for instance: plagiary). Neither of these ways of writing is intrinsically better than the other, although you -- reading this now -- will have a strong sense as to which seems to you preferable. But you need to know, so you can avoid the dangers and write to your strengths.
This imaginary author goes on: 'Fantasy and to a lesser extent science fiction is oversupplied with "farmer" writers, who like to cultivate a world and bed themselves (and their readers) into it, who are happy with traditional forms and structures. This seems counterintuitive, because SFF fans like to think of themselves as boldly going beyond the final frontier, but it's true. You are more likely to find experimental hunter-gatherer writing in the mainstream, modernist and postmodernist play.' But we can take that with a pinch of salt.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


I was pondering a short novel set in an alt-historical Islamic Jerusalem, to be called Jerusallah. But thinking about it, there are a wealth of Godname variations to be spun on this particular city: Deusalem; Theosalem; Yahwehsalem. This, of course, may not be a coincidence.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


This has only just occurred to me, perhaps because underneath it all I'm a bit dense. Not just that some of the power of the 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow' line is in its repetition, but more precisely in the way that repetition brings out the buried 'tomb' of the first syllable ...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Townshend James

Two perspectives on that perennial male problem; your body and appeal has aged and withered, but your desire has not, your response to the sight of young beauty is still what it was when you were young and beautiful yourself. One is 'Dreaming from the Waist' (on The Who By Numbers, 1975):
I'm dreaming from the waist on down
I'm dreaming but I feel tired and bound
I'm dreaming of a day when a cold shower helps my health
I'm dreaming, dreaming of the day I can control myself
Day I can control myself

Drive like a priest and then I'm shooting lights
I'm burning tires with some guy whose hair is turning white
I know the girls that I pass, they just ain't impressed
I'm too old to give up, but too young to rest

I've got that numb-to-a-thumb over-dubbed
Feeling social when the world is sleeping
The plot starts to thicken then I sicken and I feel I'm cemented down
I'm so juiced that the whorey lady's sad sad story has me quietly weeping
But here comes the morning
Here comes the yawning demented clown

I'm dreaming but I know it's all hot air
I'm dreaming I'll get back to that rocking chair
I'm dreaming of the day I can share the wealth
I'm dreaming, dreaming of the day I can control myself
Day I can control myself.
Direct, if lacking a certain nuance. Here, though, is a Clive James poem: 'Deckard Was a Replicant':
The forms of nature cufflinked through your life
Bring a sense of what Americans call closure.
The full-blown iris swims in English air
Like the wreckage of an airbag jellyfish
Rinsed by a wave’s thin edge at Tamarama:
The same frail blue, the same exhausted sprawl,
The same splendour. Nothing but the poison
Is taken out. In the gallery, that girl
Has the beauty that once gave itself to you
To be turned into marriage, children, houses.
She will give these things to someone else this time.
If this time seems the same time, it’s because
It is. The reason she is not for you
Is she already was. Try to remember
What power they have, knowing what sex is for:
Replacing us. The Gainsborough chatelaine
She studies wears a shawl dipped in the hint
Of jacaranda blossoms, yet it might
Remind her of sucked sweets, or the pale veins
Of her own breasts. Setting the Thames on fire,
The tall white-painted training ship from Denmark
Flaunts the brass fittings of the little ferry
That took you as a child to Kirribilli
On its way to Wapping, then the Acheron
And Hades. Those gulls that graze the mud
Took sixty years to get here from Bundeena.
At an average speed of forty yards an hour
They barely moved. It seems you didn’t either.
You stood still with your head wrapped in the armour
Of perception’s hard-wired interlocking habits.
Ned Kelly was the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
Dazzled by lipstick pulped from waratahs,
The smoker coughs, having been born again.
The same thing? More nuance, obviously; and a slightly less unillusioned perspective. But I like the thought that time travel, and science fiction, might hold back the brutal truth of Townshend's barbaric yawp.

Monday, 18 July 2011


There ought to be a word for creatures that make vocal sound without using a throat. It was a disparate set of animals, as it might be: crickets, meteors, rivers, bees. As it might be: trees.

Sunday, 17 July 2011


Haven't done one of these in a while.

I especially like Elvis Costello's sensitive song about a man with multiple personality syndrome, all called Oliver: 'Olivers Are Me'.

Why would I even think of smoking a Cigar? I'm better than that. I demand nothing less than an A-gar.

Sorry to see Cy Twombly has died. Out of all the “In The Night Garden” characters he was my favourite.

Transformers. Worst film about devices that transfer electricity from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors EVER.

Djokovic is really playing out of his skin! That crumpled pile by the umpire's chair you think is some towels? HIS SKIN!

‘Sinbad’. Actually named after a German spa-town. Not a lot of people know that.

I've thought of a new 'my dog's got no nose' gag; funny, but I don't know if it's funny-chihuahua or funny-peculiar.

It's like the old saying: red sky at night -- Patrick Moore's joined the Socialist Workers Party.

My favourite Beatles song about gay love is Paul's unashamed declaration: 'I want Toby A. Pepperbachrita'.

Want to check the internet for leg breaks that spin *from* off side *to* leg. But I don't know which search engine is appropriate.

Soon it will be the fourth of July! Or "Y", as I like to call it.

I thought Frank Sinatra was the best mathematical crooner -- until I heard Frank Cosineatra!

A: Knock Knock. B: Who's there? A: No -- Knock. The town in Ireland. B: You said it twice, though. A: There's an echo in here. #deadjokes

If I were to form a Yes tribute band I would call it ‘Jahwohl!’ and cover all the songs in the style of Laibach.

I was going to tweet a gag beginning ‘a man walked into a pub’ but I've changed my mind. Don't want to exclude you with an Inn-joke.

I'm thinking of wearing all grey and fitting a fin to the top of my head. I've heard every girl crazy bout a shark-dressed man.

‘If I Were A Goy’ must be Beyoncé's most Jewish song.

Г..e c.oki. That's the way 'the cookie' crumbles.

I'm glad Beyoncé's musical career has taken off. She flopped in her previous career as a stand-up comedian under the name 'BeyonISayISayISay'.

Lawrence of a Rabbi. Er ... #GreatJewishFilms

Oy Story #GreatJewishFilms

I feel the reduplication 'New York New York' is an implicit endorsement of same-State marriage.

‘And they called it ... puppy love.’ Such a sweet song! About bestiality.

I like to surround myself with fans of high-concept 1970s Prog rock. I call them my ‘Yes men’.

I don't think I'm overly literal minded. I just think the 'Pullitzer Prize' ought to be awarded for winning a Tug-of-War competition.

When I die I hope to be flown direct to paradise in a Heavenicopter, not sent to the Other Place in the Other Flying Machine.

"Pardonnez, mon" Pardon my French.

Eliot's "Four Quartets". Part of me thinks "The Quartettes" should be a 4-piece girl-band, perhaps sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board.

T S Eliot's heartbreaking poetic evocation of the anomie and existential angst of card games: "The Whist Land".

I think Paul Simon's most obsessive-compulsive song is probably ‘You Can Call Me Anal’.

I've listened to the first four of Holst's “Planets”. I call this ‘Halfst’.

I say to you what I say to all sufferers of dyslexia: crappy diem.

Sitting in the conservatory as the rain comes down hard. I'm closing my eyes & imagining I'm inside a deep-fat fryer.

Is the UK Old Age organisation SAGA called that because the Icelandic Sagas are ... really old?

My government may chooseth to aim longbow arrowes at Frenchmen, but I do repudiate suchlike. Joine me, at: Not In Mine Aim dot com.

‘If you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs/Then you'll be the one who ends up having to bury lots of headless corpses.’

The thing about Utopia: it's very More-ish.

Runcorn. So close to the word ‘unicorn’. So very far from the concept.

Goodbye London. I'm sorry but I'm leaving you. It's not Euston -- it's Meston.

I've formed the letters ‘I’ and ‘T’ out of chopped onions. Read it and weep.

Like a grab-bag of Swallows and Amazons books, I'm holding you all to ransom.

I now know why the cupboard in which the Arctic Monkeys keep their Flans is marked ‘U’. They just think ‘U’ looks good on the Flans door.

Updated ‘what's a Grecian Urn?’ gag: what's an iPhone4? FOR LORDING IT OVER MY WIFE WHO ONLY HAS AN iPHONE3! Hah!

Looking forward to ‘Green Lantern’. About time somebody made a film about Scritti Politti.

Badiou Lieutenant #philosophyfilms

Where Eagles Derrida #philosophyfilms

The World As Will And Representation Is Not Enough #philosophyfilms

Wittgensteinnail and I #philosophyfilms

Žiž, Ectually #philosophyfilms

Deleuze and Let Die #philosophyfilms

No, no, the gangster I'M thinking of was called that because he had a really ace scarf ...

The chemical symbol for gold is ‘AU’, after what its inventor said when he dropped some on his foot.

Sad to see a female jailer locking up with a key made of rhino-horn. It's the horn-key turnkey women give me the horn-key torque blues.

The iPhone autospell forces me to retype and retype until my fingers bleed! Bloody He'll!

Too poor to sing my kids to sleep! I have to fall back on a lullarent.

My favourite Kierkegaard/Charlotte Brontë/Norse myth mash up is Eyre/Thor.

My favourite Hammer film is the one about the Wiccan who seeks out high-ranking military war-criminals: “Generalfinder Witch”.

I propose a special quick-transit line at the checkout for lactating mothers. We could call it 'the express till’.

I met a traveller from Australian land who said 'let me rub you with this towell, cobber: for I am Aussie man-dryer, king of kings.’

Medieval knights were given sixty seconds to kill one another without hesitation, deviation or repetition. It was called ‘Joust A Minute’.

Italian speciality ham will bring about the end of the world! It's Parmageddon!

Watch instead the Russian show: Ivan the Terrible Engine. His tracks are laid with human bones.

In the post today, very excited to receive a copy of the new Kierkegaard fitness/slimming DVD: 'Lither/Or'

Homer's great epic of anguilliform life: The Eeliad. It was the eel-themed Watership Down of its day.

Here come ole flat-top, he come grooving up slowly, he ... no, wait a minute. My mistake. It's Derek.

It's a little known fact that the UK Labour party was in part founded by the rugged Danish philosopher, Kier 'Hardie' Kegaard.

Due to a “Brazil”-style Government typo, I've now been officially appointed to carry the Olympic Flan to London.

I've watched all but one of the Harry Potter movies. Does he AT ANY POINT make a pot? Does he fuck. #disappointed

Had a terrible nightmare in which I was being attacked by giant fruit. Woke up yelling: ‘get your hands off me you damn dirty grape!’

When is a French synthesiser door not a French synthesiser door? When it's a Jarre.

You put your left Len-in. Your left Len-out. Your left Len-in and you shake the foundations of bourgeois complacency. #MarxistHokeyCokey

An evil wizard has cast a spell and turned me into an underarm deodorant! Charmed, I'm Sure.

Kierkegaard was scared by those who drape the engines of public transportation with gold. See his “Fear And Tram Bling” for details.

Right: time for some shuteye. And opensnore.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


The wind had blown a strand of her black hair into the corner of her mouth. It looked as though she were wearing a head-mic.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Burgess on Molly Bloom's soliloquy

This is interesting: I've not read Joysprick, but stumbled upon a 1972 Paris Review interview with Burgess, in which he discusses the register and level of Molly Bloom's soliloquy:

I’m interested in what sounds Joyce is hearing when he is writing down the speech of Molly Bloom and Leopold Bloom and the minor characters. It’s a matter of great literary import, I would suggest, because the final monologue of Molly Bloom inclines a particular way of speech which is not consonant with her declared background. Here in Joyce there is something very implausible about the fact that Molly Bloom is the daughter of a major, brought up in the Gibraltar garrison, coming to Dublin speaking and thinking like any low Dublin fishwife. This seems to be totally inconsistent, and the point has not even been made before. I know Gibraltar better than Joyce did and better than most Joyce scholars. I’m trying to examine this.


If Molly’s monologue is too elegant, isn’t it one of Joyce’s points to have the poetic emerge from the demotic?


It’s not elegant enough. I mean the fact that she uses Irish locutions like “Pshaw.” She would not use any such term, she would not.


There’s a geographical thing.


There’s a pattern implied. There’s a social thing. In a very small garrison town like Gibraltar with this man, Major Tweedy, whose previous wife is Spanish, his half-Spanish daughter would speak either Spanish as a first language (and not with the usual grammar) or English as a first language—but certainly both languages, in the first instance in an Andalusian way, and in the second instance in a totally class-conscious, pseudo-patrician way. She would not come back to Dublin and suddenly start speaking like a Dublin fishwife.


So Molly’s language is probably closer in terms of social background to that of Nora Barnacle.


It is indeed; this final image is an image of Nora Barnacle and not of Molly at all. And as we know from Nora’s letters, Joyce must have studied the letters and learned from them how to set down this warm womanly pattern of speech. Nora wrote the letters totally without punctuation, and sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a chunk of one of Nora’s letters and a chunk of Molly’s final monologue.
There's a question of plausibility, of course; but also of social class; and Burgess has a point about the duty of a novelist engaged upon an exercise like Ulysses to pay attention to the details. But this lush, affirmative blurring of the border between the fictional Major's daughter from Gibraltar and the actual Dublin woman in Joyce's life is surely precisely the point here, a bug not a feature?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Pronunciation is a Riddle

Sometimes we sound the consonant;
Sometimes we mark its loss;
The water-becomes-a-bone riddle
When eau becomes an os.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

End Times


An immense plain of bubble wrap; a million transparent igloos, each inhabited. The great thumb of doom descends.


The world a piece of paper, scrunched into a ball and tossed into the bin
to creak, still alive, and weakly strain to unscrunch itself.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Awkwardness and embarrassment

Awkwardness and embarrassment may look alike, but in fact are utterly different things. Awkwardness is tight, sour, unpleasant and in intense-enough doses can make one extremely self-conscious. But embarrassment, if strong enough, occludes the whole world, shrinks the cosmos to the hot, tight, agonized cranium of the embarrassed person. You are not self-conscious in the same way an awkward person is, because embarrassment makes the self itself molten. It is much worse.

Monday, 11 July 2011


The lake was grey, wrinkled like elephant-hide. The sounds of waves slopping against the pebble and concrete embankments were of a creature smacking its lips. On the far-side of the lake the hills seemed to grow organically, as an extension of the water, as silver-grey as seals, shaped as Stegosaurus spines.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Would it be possible to construct a theory of genre not around the notion that certain genres must include items from a checklist of positive identifiers, but on the contrary that certain genres (science fiction, Fantasy, Romance, crime and so on) are, in a weak sense, taboo?
On an universal scale in almost all cultures, Taboos can include sex, death, dietary restrictions (halal and kosher diets, religious vegetarianism, and the prohibition of cannibalism), restrictions on sexual activities and relationships (sex outside of marriage, adultery, intermarriage, miscegenation, incest, animal-human sex, adult-child sex, sex with the dead), sexual fetishes, restrictions of bodily functions (burping, flatulence, defecation and urination), restrictions on the use of psychoactive drugs, restrictions on state of genitalia such as (transsexual gender identity, circumcision or sex reassignment), exposure of body parts (ankles in the Victorian British Empire, women's hair in parts of the Middle East, nudity in the US), and restrictions on the use of offensive language.

Practices considered acceptable in one culture may be considered taboo in other cultures. For example, Foot Binding, practiced in ancient China, would be considered taboo in the context of modern cultural morals. Exposure of intimate parts is generally taboo in (most) modern developed countries.[citation needed] Other subjects perceived to be taboo involve burning money; some countries or nations (most notably post-WWII Europe whose governments often object going to war except for reasons of self-defense) and moral-philosophical debates on whether or not humanity should (or not) exist. No taboo is known to be universal, but some (such as cannibalism, intentional homicide, and incest taboos) occur in the majority of societies. Taboos may serve many functions, and often remain in effect after the original reason behind them has expired. Some have argued that taboos therefore reveal the history of societies when other records are lacking. Certain taboos lose their sting over periods of time. In the United States and western countries, most people are now more comfortable than before when they discuss and explore social issues: gossip and scandal, alcoholism, depression, homosexuality, divorce, income disparity, personal relationships, pregnancy and childbirth, and teenage rebellion. Medical disorders and diseases like cancer, polio, AIDS, mental disorders and suicide aren't as heavily taboo now as in the past. Certain personal things such as age, height, weight and appearance are not always shared with confidants or in public; this indicates that such topics may be taboo to some people.
One of the interesting things about this might be, precisely the extent to which a taboo item is not simply abjected from the social body, but embodies a kind of special mana or holiness of its own. (Or more strongly, to take Freud's case, the 'incest' and 'parricide' taboo dyad as it appears, let's say, in the first Star Wars films.

Friday, 8 July 2011

What Can Phillips Mean?

Adam Phillips somewhere calls masturbation 'not only safe sex, it's safe incest.' I wonder about this: really? Is there any kind of traction in this? My first sense is that there's not; because the main point of similarity between the two sex acts (putting aside the jejune notion that since you are a part of your family, having sex with yourself is equivalent to having sex with somebody in your own family) -- broadly, that it's a sex act of convenience, a close-to-hand opportunistic sex act -- is massively outweighed by the main difference: masturbation is victim free, where the overwhelming number of instances of incest are also instances of abuse. What can Phillips mean?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A thought experiment about homosexuality

Here's a thought-experiment about homosexuality. Before I go any further, I'll say this: I consider homosexuality -- which, for the sake of argument I'm going to simplify as 'the desire to have sex predominantly or exclusively with people the same gender as yourself' -- to be a value-neutral form of human existence, to exactly the same degree that heterosexuality is value-neutral. Sexual preference is not a 'value'. That said, and nonetheless, I consider the presence of a proportion of gay people in the population to be a self-evidently good thing, on grounds of diversity and variety; and it seems to me that homophobia, overt or covert, is very obviously a great human wickedness and has created enormous, gratuitous human misery.

OK: so what follow are the premises of my thought-experiment. They are themselves relatively evidence-free, and may be wrong. But they strike me as within the bounds of plausibility. The starting point, upon which everything that follows, is the dodgiest (from what I read, there is some evidence supporting it, but it may be completely untrue and it is almost certainly much more complicated than any simple account might suggest). It's this: homosexuals inherit their desire to have sex with people of the same gender as themselves. By that I mean: homosexuals do not consciously 'choose' to be gay, and equally cannot simply 'choose' to be straight. But I mean something more than that: I mean that, to the extent that homosexuality constitutes a necessary component of who any particular gay man or women is, it is part of their genetic makeup.

Now, here's a second key premise. Some gay people want to have kids of their own, of course; and some gay people go on to do precisely that. But: looked at overall, gay people are less likely to pass on their genes than straight people. The whole system of society is set-up to facilitate straight people having and raising kids, after all, and is often explicitly hostile to gay people doing so even when homosexuality is ostensibly decriminalised. Plus gay men and women must, by and large, make conscious choices to step away from their usual sexual practice in order to conceive kids. Accordingly, straight people are more likely to have kids than gay people -- not that gay people can't, and certainly not that they shouldn't, but that, broadly speaking, they don't.

Which leads me to premise number three. If 'gayness' is a heritable quality, then we might expect two large-enough populations of breeders, one straight and one gay, to produce offspring that are weighted, respectively, accordingly: with more straight orientations in the former case, and more gay in the latter. Of course it's not true that gay people will inevitably breed gay children, or that straight people will inevitably have straight kids -- very often, empirically, that isn't the case; and we know that that's not how genetics work (as our own experience confirms; for our own children are not simple clones of ourselves). But over time, and broadly speaking, we might start to see a diverging trend between these two populations. Because that is how genetics works: on large populations, over long-enough periods of time, to magnify traits.

Now, here's a 'what-if?' What if a global climate in which gay people can live 'out' lives, decriminalised and without stigma, eventually begins to breed-out homosexuality from the population?

This is to hypothesise one key argument about human social history. Until recently, large numbers of gay men and women were in the position of being compelled, by oppression and criminalisation, to live 'straight' lives. On an individual level, it is clearly an ethical monstrosity to create a climate that forces people to live a lie. But could it be the case that this broader climate kept the same proportion of gay people in the business of producing children as was the case for straight people? (ie: not all straight people have kids, any more than all gay people do -- but when gayness was criminalised, these two proportions were closer, and now that gayness has been decriminalised it will tend to move apart). Or to put it another way: in previous generations, many gay people were effectively pressganged into heteronormative roles in their culture that they would not have chosen to fill, had they had a choice; and amongst those roles was the expectation that they would have kids.

To model it, crudely: let's say a combination of genetic factors and social pressure to pretend to be straight result in 4% of the population being gay; but let's also say that the transmission of these genes depends upon gay men and women having kids that they would not, if given the choice to live 'out', free lives, have had. Now imagine a world in which that social pressure was removed, and gay people only had kids if they actively chose it. The obvious extrapolation would be -- a smaller number of gay people will have kids, and the proportion of the population being gay will diminish. The asymptote (or doomsday scenario) here would be: the proportion of the general population that is gay falls into statistical nullitude.

If there's anything in this (and of course I concede it's a big if), does it have any larger ethical consequences? To thumbnail it: most people, or most people outside the centres of world religious fundamentalism and bigotry, would agree that the ethical way to behave is to let people live their lives according to their own sense of their sexual orientation. But what if, on a larger scale, and across the generations, this results in homosexuality becoming, relatively, much rarer in society?

It's possible to turn this around: there are relatively powerful activists, particularly in the Bible Belt of the USA, who simply refuse to accept gayness as one fact of human life. What these people want, it seems to me, is to go back to a time when gay people were forced to live the heterosexual lie. But what if, by doing so, these bigots were actually guaranteeing the continuing presence of a sizeable homosexual contingent in society as a whole?

My gut feeling is that if (big if) a worldwide, longlasting culture of tolerance leads to a dimunition of the proportion of the population -- then that would be a bad thing, broadly speaking. But, I wonder why I think so? Certainly, I don't see any reason to argue that gay people ought to be driven underground in order to 'preserve' gayness as an aspect of human culture; the trade-off (enormous human misery now for some nebulous future 'gain') is simply untenable. But I do wonder.

Who else has argued-through this thought-experiment, I wonder?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


The Kentish Knock is hemmed by the Knock Deep;
Black Dee, Barrow Deep, Oaze Deep and The Warp
Claw-gouge the pathways towards London;
Swin and Wallet define the spearblade-shapes
Of islands, like bunting fluttering eastward
In the geological and marine strong wind.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Descreivit and Red

Descreivit came to a certain small planet, with its pelt of forests, its untrampled mountain peaks, its unharvested oceans. He travelled through space, but drew his power from higher dimension.

On the planet he befriended a beast: a slim-hipped hominid with a coat of peat-coloured bodyhair that shaded into ginger on his head. The beast had wide-spaced eyes, black as nightsky, and in these the potential for intelligence glinted. He had no name as such, this beast; although he was recognised by his tribal fellows by his smell, by his stance, and by the particular arrangement of his facial features. Descreivit called him Red after his head-hair.

The ‘befriending’ took pretty much the whole season, but Descreivit was in no hurry, construing a way through the natural cautiousness of Red’s instincts. Ah, Descreivit! He had been sent to perform a certain task, and he was ready for it to take as long as necessary. He modified his appearance, internalising his lifesupport technology to appear more like a hominid. He sat with the tribe; he bickered and played with Red; he deferred to Red’s father, Alpha; he shrieked and ran and slept with them all. Soon Red treated him as he treated his kin; with the same amused, snappish tolerance.

‘Accept my gift,’ said Descreivit. ‘Gift?’ sniffed Red, his face full of suspicion, seeing nothing. ‘It is not a thing,’ explained Descreivit, straining the beast’s language as far as it would go. ‘In your head, there is flesh. This flesh thinks.’ He rapped Red’s forehead. ‘My gift will lift your thoughts, make them broader, better, thread them with immortality. It will give you soul. You shall be something new, more than your others; you will be a man. Your children too.’

A week passed before Red was prepared to accept the gift.

Descreivit called on the resources of his ultradimension; he took the knot of perception and instinct in Red’s cranium and folded it again, connected it to the higher level. He made something imperishable there, something that would only loiter on the planet until its flesh died and released it. ‘Now you are a man, a beast no more,’ he told Red. Communication was much easier now. ‘I am not from this world; from another place—another dimension. You have been chosen to join us; a congregation of life-forms, only partially wedded to this dimension. When you die now you will transcend to the ultradimension. This is because you have now what you did not have before: a soul. You are a man, no longer a beast.’

Red was amazed. ‘I shall never die!’ he said in amazement. ‘I shall pass on to a new life at death! But I must take my father with me. I must take my mother.’

‘No,’ said Descreivit. ‘Your parents are beasts, and they shall die. You are a man and shall not.’

Red considered this. ‘Gift them souls too.’

‘No,’ said Descreivit. ‘This cannot be done.’

‘Then I reject your gift,’ said Red, angrily.

Descreivit put his face in his hands and wailed. ‘No!’ he cried. ‘No! You cannot unwish the gift! By rejecting it, you bring great disaster on yourself and your children! Better to kill yourself now, to join me in the ultradimension immediately—that cliff there. Hurl yourself. This is your last chance. Oh how terrible this is! There is horrible danger here!’

‘How can it be,’ said Red, thinking through what he was saying as he said it, ‘that I am a man if my parents are beasts? I stand with my parents.’

‘Listen to me, Red,’ urged Descreivit, clinging about him, desperate to change his mind, for a great wrong was about to be knotted into the continuum of the ultradimension. ‘Your soul is woven into your consciousness. It is governed as much by your Will as your thoughts. If you will this thing you will kink the soul out of shape, and that will damage not just you but the whole ultradimension! Listen to me. How can you wish to be a beast again? Have you no pride in your manhood?’

‘No pride,’ confirmed Red stubbornly. ‘I stand with my family.’ He loped off, his knuckles tha-thadding on the compacted dirt.

‘No!’ cried Descreivit after him. ‘You cannot undo the soul in you! This is damnation and disaster!’ But Red put his thoughts elsewhere. There was the smell of rain in the air. The forest lay like a dark cloud on the horizon. He was hungry.

Monday, 4 July 2011

On the social hysteria of passing fame

Whom the mad destroy they first make gods.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Latifundia perdidere Italiam

Pliny the Elder famously intones, "To tell the truth, the latifundia destroyed Italy, and now they are destroying the provinces as well". The latifundum 'symbolises the decline of the idyllic family farm, and its replacement by soulless industrial agriculture. I'd taken this at face value, until I read Mary Beagon's argument: that Pliny's objection was not to the size or efficiency of these superfarms (how could he object to that? Wasn't the Roman Empire similarly vast, and efficiently run? Don't, in fact, latifundia metonymise the Empire itself?) so much as the belief that excess in any sort of wealth leads to decadence (a kind of residual Senecan stoicism). 'It is likely that Pliny’s remark is occasioned by the neglect of large tracts of land. Ranchland in the south of Apulia, where depopulation was also a problem, has been suggested. This, moreover, is exactly the type of land Columella describes in the De Re Rustica: men of enormous wealth possess lands of which they cannot even make the rounds, and either leave them to be trampled by cattle of wasted by wild beasts, or keep them occupied by debtors or ergastula.' Me, I like the implicit paradox in Pliny's apothegm. The more wide, fertile land we have, the more pinched and barren we become.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


I used to think (to the extent that I thought about it at all) that the phrase 'we all owe death a debt; and it must be repaid, sooner or later' was a striking, thought-provoking way of thinking about death. Now it occurs to me it is a way of normalising and naturalising the economy of borrowing and lending. After all, if we look at it from the other way around, we can hardly help observing: not all monetary debts are repaid ...

Friday, 1 July 2011


Pondering a new sort of hollow-earth story. Aliens, somewhat after the manner of Wyndham's Kraken, invade, but are uninterested in the surface of the world, and instead colonise the Asthenosphere:
The asthenosphere (from Greek asthenēs 'weak' + sphere) is the highly viscous mechanically weak ductilely-deforming region of the upper mantle of the Earth. It lies below the lithosphere, at depths between 100 and 200 km (~ 62 and 124 miles) below the surface, but perhaps extending as deep as 700 km (~ 435 miles). The asthenosphere is a portion of the upper mantle just below the lithosphere that is involved in plate tectonic movements and isostatic adjustments. In spite of its heat, pressures keep it plastic, and it has a relatively low density. Seismic waves pass relatively slowly through the asthenosphere, compared to the overlying lithospheric mantle, thus it has been called the low-velocity zone (LVZ), although the two are not exactly the same. The lower boundary of the LVZ lies at a depth of 180–220 km, whereas the base of the asthenosphere lies at a depth of about 700 km. This was the observation that originally alerted seismologists to its presence and gave some information about its physical properties, as the speed of seismic waves decreases with decreasing rigidity. Under the thin oceanic plates the asthenosphere is usually much closer to the seafloor surface, and at mid-ocean ridges it rises to within a few kilometers of the ocean floor. The upper part of the asthenosphere is believed to be the zone upon which the great rigid and brittle lithospheric plates of the Earth's crust move about. Due to the temperature and pressure conditions in the asthenosphere, rock becomes ductile, moving at rates of deformation measured in cm/yr over lineal distances eventually measuring thousands of kilometers. In this way, it flows like a convection current, radiating heat outward from the Earth's interior. Above the asthenosphere, at the same rate of deformation, rock behaves elastically and, being brittle, can break, causing faults. The rigid lithosphere is thought to "float" or move about on the slowly flowing asthenosphere, creating the movement of crustal plates.
The aliens themselves would be petrapiscine; their motion slow relative to ours (swimming through the ductile medium) but strong, implacable; and by manipulating the asthenosphere they could shrug human cities to rubble. The main problem would be our inability to reach them; but the story -- cast over a longue durée, would dramatise the initial unsuccessful and latterly more successful insurgency against the assault. Title: The Strong Weak Sphere.