Wednesday, 31 August 2011


The edges of paper in nineteenth-century books -- cut leaves, not uncut ones.
The undersides of mushrooms.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Verne Sequels 6

Verne Redivivus. (vt. The return of Verne. Jules juvinates. He-e-e-e-e-eres Hetzel!)

On March 9, 1886, as Verne was coming home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew, Gaston, shot him with a gun. One bullet missed, but the second entered Verne's left leg, giving him a limp that would not be cured. The incident was hushed up by the media, and Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

But what if Gaston wasn't insane? Why did he try and assassinate his famous uncle? What was really behind this murky episode? Read Verne Redivivus to discover the secrets behind the facade of Verne's celebrity; and more -- to discover that Gaston shot him not in the leg but in the heart ... and he still lived.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Swordfish Poem

"Swordfish are vigorous, powerful fighters. When hooked or harpooned, they have been known to dive so quickly that they have impaled their swords into the ocean bottom up to their eyes." Encylopaedia Piscia

--(the fish with a hyphen for a nose,
conkfoil, gladius nasus, the xiphos-sniffer,
the piscine Pinocchio; whose every extra nautical mile,
of strenuous swimming is another lie.

In death, like Excalibur, they situate themselves
in the anvil of the submarine earth:
whoso pulleth, and so on, and so forth)--
but when handle's so slippy, who can properly grasp it?

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Death is Always a Meal poem

As mind self-ruminates,
As cows chew cud,
So burial mounds masticate
And earth eats blood.

All Nature is edible,
Predation is a wheel;
And your death is inevitable
And inevitably a meal.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


My very doubt is doubtful.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Absent Gaggage

What do I want? What don't I want?

I DO want a brown heifer; I DON'T want Lord Stanley's metallic fruit! Alright? The order IS tan bull, not count Stan's tin apple.

My memory is terrible. I don't just have amnesia. I've several mnesias.

This lunar current bun is horrible. I think it's been made with that Bad Moon Raisin about which Credence Clearwater Revival sang.

I think it would make ‘Dragon's Den’ more interesting if one of then were actually called ‘Den’. And wore drag.

The most significant philosopher in ‘Fawlty Towers’ is probably E Manuel Kant. Author of ‘CritiQué? Of Judgment’.

If music be the food of love SHUT UP! I'M TRYING TO SLEEP! It's HALF PAST ELEVEN PM!

You know what happens if you buy nine 99-flakes and HOLD THEM UPSIDE DOWN? The ice-cream of the Beast!

NASA launch a probe to explore Jupiter, the most Jewish of all the planets.

I refuse to sink to emoticons. You'll just have to imagine my face, sideways, smiling.

Teenagers in the UK can take 'Business Studies A-Level'. Why can't they take 'Communism A-Level'?

When singing along to the Trammps 'Disco Inferno' I recommend you replace the word 'Disco' with the word 'Dante's'. Hours of fun!

A man called Winnegan is trying to sell a forged Joyce manuscript. Personally, I have no interest in Winnegan's fake.

If you want tomato sauce you can't have it; if you don't want it, there's plenty. It's Ketchup-22.

I've opened a Mafia-funded lemonade bottle-top factory in my bottom. Now's the time to cap some pop in my ass.

The best Smiths song about a guy brewing tea in a priceless Chinese vase is probably ‘This Char Ming Man’.

I'm sorry, Totality Of Existing Matter: we have to split up. If it's any consolation: it's not Universe. It's Meniverse.

If I stand up suddenly the blood pounds in my head like Neil Peart's drumming. This is what they call ‘a head rush’.

If Wellington had lost Waterloo the world would now be ruled by Napoleon XVIII. France would have explored space with the ‘Napollo’ program.

Say what you like about Atilla -- at least he made the Huns train on time.

You know who they never play on Radio 3? The great Yugoslav composer, Johann Serbastian Bach.

I only wanted to make my wife a 'happy' cup of tea. You would not believe the brouhaha that ensued.

Jack Straw sold me a hump. A case of the Straw who brokered the camel's back.

Dan's watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. No Morph as yet. Indeed, I'm starting to suspect the director didn't even consult Tony Hart.

They really should kick-off The Annual World Amateur Go Championship with a man dressed as Joey Ramone shouting 'hey! ho! Let's Go!'

Some people claim Poe was the first SF writer. But if that were true I think he would've been called ‘Edgar Alien Poe’.

Dobbin just vomited up a heterosexual! Straight from the horse's mouth!

I just read an experimental novel made up entirely of prepositions. It's not all that.

Watching the Kierkegaard Doctor-Who spin-off: Eithert/Orchwood.

The Romans called the Mediterranean ‘Mare Nostrum’. That's ‘the Nostril Sea’. Because they thought it was shaped like a nostril. #True

To quote Louis XV, when he was commentating the Winter Olympics: “Après moi, le Luge!”

Smeagól was a weatherman who became obsessed with his list of high pressure fronts. His continual cry of ‘my pressures’ alienated everyone.

Nobody makes haunted orangeade music like the Wu Tango Clan.

I dreamt of a film about Julie Andrews and a howling dog in the Alps for three hours. It was called 'This Hound of Music'.

'Is it true you use a Faraday cage? 'Nonsense! It's rarely more than a Faraweek. And stop calling me "Cage".'

I've been reading Marcel Porc's classic of pig literature, "À la Cochon du Temps Perdu". First volume: "Swine's Way". Very good.

Sherlock Holmes was so clever! So why did his grandson Eamon end up fronting daytime TV like a moron?

St Augustine of Hippo is more famous; but personally I've always thought St Augustine of Rhinoceros the more theologically interesting.

Friend of mine went into hospital for routine work; when he came to they'd replaced his patella with pastry! He is not a happy bun knee.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Bluevein and redvein are the same river.
You do not step in it twice. You do not step in it at all.
The river runs in fits and starts
As if flowing down a staircase,
Not down a smooth incline.
The topography of the body is not a smooth incline.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What would the pressure be inside an infinite ocean?

I've actually been pondering this; don't laugh. So far as I can see: an ocean that extended infinitely in every direction would either possess infinite density, or else would possess the simple density of water. I incline towards the latter.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Verne Sequels 5

The sequel to 1877's Hector Servadac would be Hector Servadac II.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Like Barbara Ehrenreich (whose review of David Livingstone Smith's Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) in the LABR I read with great interest), this doesn't really convince met:
Smith offers his own theory of human uniqueness: We are unique in our ability to “dehumanize” each other and this, the reader will be astonished to learn, is a testimony to our superior intelligence:
Thinking of others as subhumans requires sophisticated cognitive machinery. Minimally, it depends on the ability to deploy abstract concepts like “human” and “subhuman” — something that is well beyond the reach of even the cleverest nonhuman primates.
There’s no point in belaboring the irony in Smith’s assertion that our apparent failure to consistently recognize conspecifics arises, not from thick-headedness, but from our presumed intellectual gifts.
Would smarter chimpanzees be capable of “de-chimpizing” each other? The empirical roadblock Smith faces here is that chimps do in fact sometimes “de-chimpize” each other, or treat each other with what animal behaviorists have called “gratuitous cruelty,” as if the “enemy” chimp were a non-conspecific prey animal, such as a monkey. Smith wriggles out of this by warning against attributing “human-like mental states” to chimps:
Now, chimps are very smart, but they’re not that smart. There’s no reason to suppose that they’re able to reflect on their own intentions or that they can grasp sophisticated concepts like harm. So it looks like Jane Goodall was right. Chimps can’t be cruel.
So chimps may act mean but they aren’t smart enough to really be mean: a line of reasoning which, I am sorry to say, makes Smith look suspiciously kind.
'Cruel', here, I suppose means not only acting in a horrible way to another being, but knowing that one is doing so, or rather knowing that one might be acting nicely but has instead chosen to act horribly. In other words the problem, as you adequately put it, is choice. This in turn, it seems to me, opens a fundamentally religious, indeed Christian context to the way we think about animals.  Dodgy, surely.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


"Affliction," Simone Weil wrote in The Need for Roots, "confers immense prestige so long as it is accompanied by strength." Possibly; but if the accompanying strength were strong enough, wouldn't it confer all the prestige you might want, without the need for suffering at all?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Seurat as Pastoral

There's a lovely Natalie Shapero poem in a recen(ish) Kenyon Review called 'Pastoral'. It describes a nighttime citscape, a public park, in which A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle de la Grande Jatte (Seurat's desperately famous image) has, with eminently plausible kitsch grandeur, been rendered into the sculptural medium of topiary:
Above the Deaf School, oddly opportune:
This whittled city’s whalebone-sliver moon.
Somebody has teased imported shrubbery
Into Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon

on the Isle de la Grande Jatte. The island scene
in monochrome, with shadows the same green
as sunspots.
Sunspots are black, not green; but the image is strking, and works. I can't decide if its because it taps into the 'false colouration' aspect of impressionist painting (where orange light would throw a green shadow), or whether it simply, neatly, folds together the greenery of the shrubs and the blackness of night.
The capuchin

monkey strains at its wire leash. Long pipes
protrude from hedge-lips; Gallic archetypes
smooth out their verdant skirts, the fresh-cut hems
obediently flaring.
I hadn't noticed the monkey in the image until I read this! The park gift-shop sells ('what else?') prints of the painting. And, the gardener has installed in the pond, to stand-in for the Seine, some carp:
a school of twenty-eight
Japanese Gin Rin B were introduced
to the muddy park. Their long fins undulate

above the pond—when it was deepened by
a passing storm; they grew too large. Heads high,
we coax out art to meet our hungry eyes.
Nature is the call, and the reply.
We are the carp; our fish-shaped eyes swimming in the medium of art, and hungrily grazing upon it -- made, here, actual foliage, a kind of literalisation of the pastoral mode (art not just about nature, but actually an example of nature). Very nice.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Found poem: Shrewdness and Personal Assertion

In his account of what he considered the demoralisation of the 141st New York regiment during the American Civil War, a certain Lieutenant Colonel James Beecher composed the following list. It makes one of the most effective found poems I've seen in a while:
General orders are treated with evasion & sometimes contempt.

Shrewdness & personal assertion are cultivated -- prompt military deportment discouraged.

Deserters are replaced to boast among honest men.

Companies are excused from duty --

Gross disobediences are composed by personal interviews.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Biography poem

From mourning to biography
From kings to saints.
In Themistocles and Camillus
Plutarch wrote 'the year after
Plague came as a tourist to Rome,
stole away an incalculable number
of ordinary citizens, and
made slaves of them. Most
of the magistrates too.
Also: Camillus.' Death
ties the hands and leads away
the common and the mighty, both
to cropped-hair servitude.
Camillus gets the only write-up.
Which means: only he is really dead.
The one and only slave.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sand sculpture

A sand-scultpure of a man, standing. It makes plain what other modes of sculpture rarely does; that human bodies, being multicellular, are granular items.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Verne Sequels 4

Le tour d'un autre monde en quatre-vingts jours. Mr Tyne and his young friend, Hans Allerichtungen, are ballooning in central England when a spacetime anomaly deposits them over the surface of a strange world. They try to land, but the ground is covered with hostile, motile vegetation. They can see the portal through which they entered behind them; but the wind is strong and blowing them in the wrong direction -- the planet is dominated by a standing gale that blows from east to west. Somehow the must stay aloft, fed and watered for as long as it takes them to travel all the way around this dangerous new world, until they approach the portal again ...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Pastoral and Eros

Renato Poggioli's The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal (Harvard Univ. Press 1975) makes a number of claims about the pastoral mode, not least that Pastoral is fundamentally ‘a double longing after innocence of happiness … the wishful dream of a happiness to be gained without effort, of an erotic bliss made absolute by its own irresponsiblility’ [14]. This focus on the erotic is interesting (‘happiness means in pastoral terms always one and the same thing: the fulfilment of the passion of love, the consummation of man’s erotic wishes’ [42]). Is this true, though? Or is it a reductive account of the possibility of human pleasure in nature?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Church Steeple Poem

The church steeple
mimics larkspur:

grey stone for the mauve
of Delphnium Cultivar,

shedding bell chimes
instead of pollen.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Angelic dogwood

This poem, by John R Campbell, is called 'Pastoral'; it first appeared in the magazine Poetry in 1993:
The dogwood is angelic,
despite your protests. If it pleases you, then,
it's pastoral, and if you had a hand
in its beauty, it's beautiful.
But who posed this question of the dogwood,
you have to ask. And then wander the woodlots
in search of an answer. It's hopelessly old fashioned,
but there's something to
the symmetry of trees,
something more than the dappled
halves of an equation.
It provokes you to assert the impossible again,
and in this way you repeat yourself--
I mean you regenerate yourself--
your romantic body, fed by romantic proteins,
clones its romantic cells, and branches
in a pasture you'll never see.
There's a lovely balance there between 'If it pleases you, then/it's pastoral', and 'If it pleases you, then/it's pastoral'; that is to say, between an understanding of pastoral in terms of its capacity for generating pleasure, and an sense that 'the pastoral' is located not in any topographic place (the countryside, for instance), or even in any vegetative or rural feature, like dogwood; but in the presence of another person. I like this last idea especially. This elegantly formed balance is part of the poem's larger point, of course; the urge to 'reduce' the natural world to its material components (cells, proteins, equations) as against the sense of the world as something more (we might even say: something more numinous) than its constitutive elements) -- the poem in fact not wishing to prioritize one over the other, but instead to aprehend both in 'harmony', the 'something to' the world around us. It's hopelessly old fashioned in more than the sense of that phrase as a piece of self-deprecating conversational filler (in which neither 'hopelessness' nor the ancientness of 'old fashioned' take their fullest force). 'Wander the woodlots in search of an answer', like Shakespeare in Milton's most famous pastoral poem ('On summer eves by haunted stream ... sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,/Warble his native wood-notes wild'). And like a Renaissance pastoral, the poem is also an eloquently veiled invitation to sex: for the chance that a woman's beauty, as lovely but fleeting as the dogwood bloom, should be 'reproduced', 'regenerated', at a cellular level, and committed to the future world of pastures 'we' will never see.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Herodic Coinage

Mad conspiracy theorists strike me as less imaginative now than they used to be; the same tired old grooves are worn through (UFOs, Lizards, 9/11 et al). Why don't they pick up some of the more intriguing looser threads? Here's a bronze coin from the period of Herod the Great. One faces shows -- no, not a UFO, but a military helmet:

But what interests me more is the other face of the coin:

The legend there tells us under whose reign (Bezonian): BASILEWS HRWDOU, 'of King Herod'.  But look at the cross, just to the right of centre.  Doesn't that merit a loony conspiracy theory?  Really?

Looking into it, scholars seem to suggest it is either (a) a version of the Egyptian 'ankh' symbol, with religious signification; or (b) 'a mark of monetary value, "TR", a piece thrice the value of the chalkous, or smallest copper coin.'  But come along! That's ordinary and boring. Surely we can do better than that.  Let's start with: Herod was a time-traveller from a Christian future, who ...

You can fill in the rest for yourself.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

God Threshold

William James coined the phrase 'the pain threshold' in Varieties of Religious Experience:
Recent psychology has found great use for the word 'threshold' as a symbolic designation for the point at which one state of mind passes into another. Thus we speak of the threshold of a man's consciousness in general, to indicate the amount of noise, pressure, or other outer stimulus which it takes to arouse his attention at all. One with a high threshold will doze through an amount of racket by which one with a low threshold would be immediately waked. Similarly, when one is sensitive to small differences in any order of sensation we say he has a low 'difference-threshold'- his mind easily steps over it into the consciousness of the differences in question. And just so we might speak of a 'pain-threshold,' a 'fear-threshold,' a 'misery-threshold,' and find it quickly overpassed by the consciousness of some individuals, but lying too high in others to be often reached by their consciousness. The sanguine and healthy-minded live habitually on the sunny side of their misery-line, the depressed and melancholy live beyond it, in darkness and apprehension. There are men who seem to have started in life with a bottle or two of champagne inscribed to their credit; whilst others seem to have been born close to the pain-threshold, which the slightest irritants fatally send them over.
He goes on to ask:
Does it not appear as if one who lived more habitually on one side of the pain-threshold might need a different sort of religion from one who habitually lived on the other?
It sounds eminently plausible; but it seems to me to invite a more thorough follow-through. Is there a 'God threshold' that separates believers from non-believers? Talking of devout Muslims and Christians as 'people with a low God threshold' might be less ostensibly offensive than calling them gullible; plus it addresses the specifics of belief, since an individual who is (as an atheist might see it) 'gullible' when it comes to God might very well be far from gullible in other areas of his or her life.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


Why has 'danger' acquired positive connotations (excitement, experimentation, pushing-the-boundaries, epater-ing les bourgeois and so on) where 'risk', really, hasn't? Don't they both mean the same thing ... 'Exposure to the possibility of loss, injury, or other adverse or unwelcome circumstance; a chance or situation involving such a possibility' [OED]. As if Risk is defined only in negative terms, where danger is about excavating 'loss' from the boring and the stultifying.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Verne Sequels 3

[Original title page for Vingt trille lieues sous les mers]

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea, back cover blurb:
It is 1955.  Funded, in part, by a reclusive Swiss millionaire and working -- it is claimed -- from Nemo's actual blueprints discovered in India, the French Navy build a replica Nautilus. Crewed with sailors and scientists, and commanded by the short-tempered Captain Mason, it is launched in great secrecy from Bayonne. Almost as soon as it is underwater, however, and having passed beyond the Continental Shelf, an accident (or sabotage!) sends it plummeting towards the ocean floor. The crew desperately attempt repairs as the pressure builds, threatening to crush the entire craft. But then something very strange happens: despite the fact that they are still descending, the pressure equalises. The descent continues for days; soon passing the 5000m depth that ought to mark the bottom of the ocean. As days turn to weeks, the mystery of their plight only grows deeper: for they pass hundreds and soon thousands kilometres of 'depth' with no ill effects. Other constraints press upon them: particularly the need to find food, and conserve fuel. Pressures amongst the all-male crew intensify as well, approaching breaking point as weeks pass, and the depth becomes measurable in millions of kilometres. Are they dead, trapped in an eternal descent to Hell? Have they passed through some portal into a realm of infinite water? Or have they somehow stumbled upon -- or been deliberately lead to, via the mysterious Indian blueprint -- some truth about the world too profound even to be measured in trillions?

Then, when they think all hope is lost, and as they approach the trillionth kilometre of depth, they see light below them ...
A very tense read; highly imaginative. The ending is particularly good: surprising and thought-provoking.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Faith versus works

I remember being taught Fielding's Joseph Andrews for A-level (back in the way back when) as, in large part, a comic-satiric intervention into eighteenth-century theological debates as to whether justification is by faith or works. At the time it seemed a more-or-less abstruse question, in part because good works struck my teenage mind as so obviously a better way to live your life than intense faith (a position, of course, that had nothing to do with scripture). From time to time I am surprised by how vigorously this problematic can manifest itself. It is, for instance, behind Eliot's Becket:
Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
I honestly don't see that the hyperbole of 'greatest treason' can be understood out of the context of this debate.

But coming back to it again, what once seemed to me not only clear cut but straightforward strikes me now as immensely complicated and even incoherent. What is the distinction between drawn between 'faith' and 'works'? How can faith not be a 'work', and how can any works be undertaken not motivated by faith? Aren't these things, actually, the same thing -- not in the shallow sense (behind Becket's words, perhaps) that 'faith' means 'a reason for acting in a certain way', but in the deeper sense that our various internal forces of faith situate and position our being-in-the-world?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Moore's 'p and I do not believe that p': more Metadox than Paradox

Moore's Paradox gets its claws into your brain and doesn't let go, I find. Apparently, Wittgenstein 'once remarked that the only work of Moore’s that greatly impressed him was his discovery of the peculiar kind of nonsense involved in such a sentence as “It’s raining but I don’t believe it”.' He discussed it at some length in the tenth section of Investigations. Wikipedia (of course) lays it all out neatly:
Moore's paradox concerns the putative absurdity involved in asserting a first-person present-tense sentence such as 'It's raining but I don't believe that it is raining' or 'It's raining but I believe that it is not raining'. The first author to note this apparent absurdity was G.E. Moore. These 'Moorean' sentences, as they have become known:

  • can be true,
  • are (logically) consistent, and moreover
  • are not (obviously) contradictions.

The 'paradox' consists in explaining why asserting a Moorean sentence is (or less strongly, strikes us as being) weird, absurd or nonsensical in some way. Subsequent commentators have further noted that there is an apparent residual absurdity in asserting a first-person future-tense sentence such as 'It will be raining and I will believe that it is not raining'. There is currently no generally accepted explanation of Moore's Paradox in the philosophical literature.

Since Jaakko Hintikka's seminal treatment of the problem, it has become standard to present Moore's Paradox as explaining why it is absurd to assert sentences that have the logical form: (OM) P and NOT(I believe that P), or (COM) P and I believe that NOT-P. Commentators nowadays refer to these, respectively, as the omissive and commissive versions of Moore's Paradox, a distinction according to the scope of the negation in the apparent assertion of a lack of belief ('I don't believe that p') or belief that NOT-P. The terms pertain to the kind of doxastic error (i.e. error of belief) that one is subject to, or guilty of, if one is as the Moorean sentence says one is. ...Moore presents the problem in a second, distinct, way:
  • It is not absurd to assert the past-tense counterpart, e.g. 'It was raining but I did not believe that it was raining'.
  • It is not absurd to assert the second- or third-person counterparts to Moore's sentences, e.g. 'It is raining but you do not believe that it is raining', or 'Michael is dead but they do not believe that he is'.
  • It is absurd to assert the present-tense 'It is raining and I don't believe that it is raining'.
  • I can assert that I was a certain way (e.g. believing it was raining when it wasn't), that you, he, or they, are that way, but not that I am that way. Why not?

Many commentators—though by no means all—also hold that Moore's Paradox arises not only at the level of assertion but also at the level of belief. Interestingly imagining someone who believes an instance of a Moorean sentence is tantamount to considering an agent who is subject to, or engaging in, self-deception (at least on one standard way of describing it).
What Moore identifies is a mouthfeel sort of question: there is nothing wrong with the statement; it just feels as though there is.

I wonder if this is a sort of meta-version of a more familiar issue with our mind's capacity to crunch data. We take in lots of discourse; mostly it makes sense, but sometimes it is gibberish. Our minds are quick at sorting the one from the other (distinguishing whether my 3-year old is actually communicating to me, or just babbling doubledutch). But there are statements that seem the latter and then resolve into the former: the example that comes to mind is from Stevens's 'Emperor of Ice-Cream':
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.'
That 'Let be be finale of seem' line looks like spam-gibberish, with its unidiomatic reduplication of 'be' near the beginning, and its strange way with nouns. But it makes clear, perfect sense. I'm assuming that this particular knight's move, from 'nonsense' to 'ah, I see!' is precisely the effect that Stevens was going for.

Is there something similar happening, on a conceptual rather than a merely semantic level, with 'it's raining but I don't believe that it is raining'? It inhabits something that looks, at first blush, like a flat contradiction (as it might be: 'I believe it is raining and I do not believe that it is raining'), but in fact it isn't in that form. It's in as perfectly logical a form as 'It was raining but I didn't believe that it was raining.'

Except that it is different? (This is the 'bites, doesn't let go' part of this). 'It was raining but I didn't believe that it was raining' is simple enough: it means 'I was mistaken' (for instance: 'I thought it was the sound of applause; but it was just the sound of rain on the conservatory roof'). 'I believe it is raining and I do not believe that it is raining' would be a way of talking about my split personality, or the ability of human beings to live with contradictory things. But 'it's raining but I don't believe that it is raining' is a deeper statement; and maybe that's why it has such a striking mouthfeel. Perhaps its depth doesn't emerge until we replace its trivial belief with a nontrivial one. 'The universe is godless, but I don't believe the universe is godless' is a better iteration of the paradox. You see what I mean.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Once upon a time it was thought that the heavens declared the glory of God. Hiding seemed a mean and cowardly thing to do, not the least since God Himself spread himself so unmissably across the constellations, from white-tipped mountain to white-tipped ocean wave. Now we no longer consider these things direct evidence of God; and those who still believe must come to terms with the state of affairs where God hides from direct view. He may have very good reasons for doing so; that's not my point. My point is that, were I a Christian, I'd have to think about shifting the reputation of hiding about: no longer a sneaky or mean activity, hiding would now become: holy, transcendent, sublime. Divine.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Latour abolie

Dipping my toe into some Latour; but cautiously, since I've a hunch that I could tumble embarrassingly in love with his thought, like a crazy teenager.  I've been reading bits and pieces, as well as Graham Harman's excellent Bruno Latour: Prince of Networks (2009; which is available for free download, here. Why wouldn't you check it out?). My worry at the moment is that the objections that occur to me are of the undercooked sort that, in turn, don't take account of the complexity of Latour's actual writing. That's one danger of critiqueing on the basis of summaries rather than originals:
In Reassembling the Social (2005), Latour continues a reappraisal of his work, developing what he calls a “practical metaphysics,” which calls “real” anything that an actor (one who we are studying) claims as a source of motivation for action. So if someone says, “I was inspired by God to be charitable to my neighbors,” we are obliged to recognize the “ontological weight” of their claim, rather than attempting to replace their belief in God’s presence with “social stuff,” like class, gender, imperialism, etc. Latour’s nuanced metaphysics demands the existence of a plurality of worlds, and the willingness of the researcher to chart ever more. He argues that researchers must give up the hope of fitting their actors into a structure or framework, but Latour believes the benefits of this sacrifice far outweigh the downsides: “Their complex metaphysics would at least be respected, their recalcitrance recognized, their objections deployed, their multiplicity accepted.”
OK: but this, it seems to me, cannot account for the 'Mornington Crescent' aspect of human discourse: a game that is played like a game and indeed is a game, but which is at the same time a joke, established to mock complicating gaming. Or to put it in the terms of the believer inspired by God: the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a beautifully Mornington Crescent-y iteration of deity. A believer in the FSM can perform exactly the same degree of 'seriousness' about her faith as any Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew; but 'taking her belief seriously' rather violates the fundamental principle that this belief is predicated upon as kind of joyous, satirical unseriousness. How do we respect the 'ontological weight' of claims like this?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Life as unity

Sartre (Carnets, 17) says an interesting thing about biography that could extrapolated into an account of the ground of all character-based fictional appeal: 'nostalgia for other people's lives. This is because, seen from the outside, they form a whole. While our own life, seen from the inside, is all bits and pieces. Once again, we run after an illusion of unity.'

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Verne Sequels 2

Après De la Terre à la Lune (1865) et Autour de la Lune (1870): Retour sur la Lune. Notre trois hommes (Nicholl, Barbicane et Michel Ardan) montés un autre fois dans un immense canon pour les envoyer vers la Lune. Cette fois, ils la arrivent, et de découvrir une immense plaine d'ossements blancs. Le mystère nie solution, jusqu'à la rencontre d'un être qui prétend être Johannes Kepler, qui révèle que ce sont les os des êtres humains ... l'humanité dans un avenir lointain fui la Terre et ont cherché refuge sur une lune terraformée. Mais une force étrange crée un courant alternatif de temps, dans lequel la vie et la mort sont les meme choses! Nos héros doivent empêcher la catastrophe temporelle!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Form That Contradicts The Content

A statue of Adam and Eve. Embedded within the marble, like a white comma, a shell from long-dry Mesozoic oceans.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Dusty poem

Dust roulettes a tornado:
Biographies of butts and cars and chaff
The world is made loose inside the dustbowl.