Monday, 30 April 2012

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Forgiveness Poem

So what you've done is forgiveable
And what your enemies have done
Is unforgiveable. In that
We have the nub and the network,
The history and the futurestory.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


The Importance of Being Earnest, of course: but I wonder if Wilde's imagination was informed by the fact that the standard nineteenth-century book on the game of Whist was by a chap called Bunbury? (Henry Charles Bunbury, The whist-player: the Laws and Practice of Short-Whist Explained, 2nd ed., 1858). Bunburying is another kind of game, after all.

Friday, 27 April 2012


I feel like I'm in my internet dotage.  When I started out online, reading blogs, commenting on blogs and blogging myself, centuries of internet-time ago, I had a sense of what a troll was, and why s/he was a bad thing.  Now, increasingly I see all manner of dissenting comments, comments framed perhaps vehemently or carelessly or sometimes even fairly courteously, flagged as trolling, and the commentators warned that if they repeat their comments they'll be banned.  A recent example: this Chris Betram Crooked Timber post about the legacy of colonialism: 'Skeletons in the Imperial Attic'. I broadly agree with Bertram in this post, and disagree with the first comment, from 'Jawbone' ('this is pure white self-hatred'). But it seems to me that 'Jawbone' has a right both to dissent from Bertram's view and to articulate that dissent, and that he doesn't do so here in a way liable to incite hatred or cause a breach of the peace.  A couple of other commentators expressed their disagreement with 'Jawbone', which is all good.  Then Bertram commented: 'Had just decided to zap the troll, but now there are referring comments. Jawbone: further comments from you will be deleted. Other people, please ignore.' Not so much 'I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it' as 'I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death my right to block, unfollow and no-platform you.'

Calling someone a troll implies a judgement about their intent: it is saying not just that they are disagreeing with you, but that they are doing so in bad faith, just to get a rise out of you, disingenuously, wickedly. But increasingly, it seems to me, 'troll' is becoming a synonym for dissenters of any stripe. That's not a good thing.  In the light of this, it's a particularly bad thing.

Of course, 'Jawbone' can always get his/her own blog and say what they like; and of course the comments thread of somebody else's blog is space that belongs to that other person.  But it's a public space, for all that; courtesy is an ideal rather than a necessary condition of debate, disagreement is healthy and 'troll' ought to be a rhetorical blade unsheathed only at last resort.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


Utopia. Eutopia. Utempora. Uchronia. Uchthonia. Outopia. Umoria. Umorea. Aliustopia. Altertopia. Phantasmia. Phantasmania. Whenmark. Noland. Idealand. Nodealand. Sanctia.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Actual secrets are by definition unknown to us. If we know a secret then it isn't secret any more.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Hunger is always relative (more or less hungry than ...) because “absolute hunger” is just another phrase for “death”.

Monday, 23 April 2012


That the human body is a conduit for its fluids; but more to the point, a conduit with a built-in delay -- like slow glass.

Sunday, 22 April 2012


'Controversial' is a bit of a weasel word, isn't it? Wikipedia has a section in its Koestler entry entitled 'Controversial personal life':
Koestler's relations with women have been a source of controversy. In 1998, a biography of Koestler by David Cesarani alleged that Koestler had been a serial rapist and that the British writer Jill Craigie had been one of his victims in 1951. Craigie confirmed the allegations
Ugh. Wikipedia also informs us that these 'controversial' claims have been contested. OK. I picked up a charity-shop copy of the George Mikes title, above, which has a whole chapter on Koestler's relationship with women. He's upfront that Koestler had sex with a great many women (despite being in other relationships); that he pursued women, sometimes aggressively. 'There is,' Mikes breezily informs us, 'a world of difference between the Continental and the English approach to women.' For instance?
In Hungary we would never describe a man as a "womaniser". We do not even have a proper synonym for the word. If we had, it would not have a pejorative meaning. In Hungary, and everywhere in Central Europe, you would say that "he is quite a Don Juan" or would declare admiringly, perhaps enviously, that he has great success with women. In Central Europe, every woman was regarded as fair prey. She could always say "no" and -- after several renewed attempts to persuade her to change her mind -- her no would be taken for an answer, even if grudgingly. But not even to try? This was a ridiculous notion, implying shyness and timidity, quite unbecoming in a real male, and probably offensive to any pretty lady. [27
And there you have it. Any man unprepared to engage in sexual harrassment, up to and including rape, is timid and unmanly. Why, not to sexually harrass a woman is actually offensive to women! The logic is impeccable.

Mikes goes on: 'the British do not chase women' and then offers two possible explanations as to why. The first is 'perhaps they have no choice; perhaps their women say yes in a matter-of-fact and unromantic way.' As if! The second possible explanation, though, is more interesting: 'perhaps a growing number of men are chasing other men.' And with that, m'lud, the defence rests.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Butlerian Jihad

There's a reason why Frank Herbert named his anti-machine crusade after Samuel Butler. This, from 'Darwin Among the Machines', Butler's 1863 essay:
We refer to the question: What sort of creature man’s next successor in the supremacy of the earth is likely to be. We have often heard this debated; but it appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race. In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race.

Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question ... War to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race.'

Friday, 20 April 2012

How not to write a footnote in a scholarly edition of a text

Morris's News from Nowhere, chapter III:
She laughed again, and said: “Well, lads, old and young, I must get to my work now. We shall be rather busy here presently; and I want to clear it off soon, for I began to read a pretty old book yesterday, and I want to get on with it this morning: so good-bye for the present.” She waved a hand to us, and stepped lightly down the hall, taking (as Scott says) at least part of the sun from our table as she went.
The allusion needs glossing. This is how Clive Wilmer does it, in his Penguin Classics edition, News from Nowhere and Other Writings [p.410]:
Morris was a passionate devotee of Sir Walter Scott's novels. His set of them can still be found on his bookshelves at Kelmscott manner.
... which tells us nothing very much. This is what it should say:
The reference is to Walter Scott's 1828 novel The Fair Maid of Perth: "Catharine took the opportunity of escape which was thus given her, and glided from the room. To Henry it seemed as if the sun had disappeared from the heaven at midday, and left the world in sudden obscurity." [ch. 5]

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Notes on Ethics 101

George Moore’s Principia Ethica (1903) devolves ethics into the question ‘how can we do good?’ and therefore into the question ‘what is “good”?’ His answer to these questions is complex, as we might expect, but one aspect of it is that (a) he thinks that good cannot be adequately defined in terms of other qualities, but that (b) we nevertheless all possess an intuitive sense of what ‘goodness’ is. By the first part of this argument he means that if we say(for example) ‘goodness is the maximization of happiness’; then we may as well substitute ‘the maximization of happiness’ for ‘good’ whenever we come across it. But this shifts the problem of definition along. An analogy Moore uses is the colour yellow; we know what it is, but cannot define it:
It may be true that all things which are good are also something else, just as it is true that all things which are yellow produce a certain kind of vibration in the light. And it is a fact, that Ethics aims at discovering what are those other properties belonging to all things which are good. But far too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties they were actually defining good; that these properties, in fact, were simply not "other," but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. [Principia Ethica, 10:3]
As for the second part of his argument, Moore acknowledges that others see him as a ‘moral intuitionist’, but insists that there are two layers to his ethical investigation, and that only the first of these—what is ‘good’?—is properly intuitive; the second layer, broadly ‘how should we act?’ is not, at least according to his argument. This from the preface to the Principia Ethica:
In order to express the fact that ethical propositions of my first class are incapable of proof or disproof, I have sometimes followed Sidgwick's usage in calling them ‘Intuitions.’ But I beg that it may be noticed that I am not an ‘Intuitionist,’ in the ordinary sense of the term. Sidgwick himself seems never to have been clearly aware of the immense importance of the difference which distinguishes his Intuitionism from the common doctrine, which has generally been called by that name. The Intuitionist proper is distinguished by maintaining that propositions of my second class—propositions which assert that a certain action is right or a duty—are incapable of proof or disproof by any enquiry into the results of such actions. I, on the contrary, am no less anxious to maintain that propositions of this kind are not ‘Intuitions,’ than to maintain that propositions of my first class are Intuitions.
J L Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977) thinks belief in ‘objective rights and wrongs’ cannot be sustained. He is not oblique about this: his book opens with the sentence ‘There are no objective values’, and its burden is that ethics must be invented rather than discovered.
If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else. These were recognized by Moore when he spoke of non-natural qualities, and by the intuitionists in their talk about a ‘faculty of moral intuition’.
Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere, ch. VIII) is not impressed by this argument. Mackie
denies the objectivity of values by saying they are “not part of the fabric of the world”, and that if they were they would have to be “entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe”. He clearly has a definite picture of what the universe is like, and assumes hat realism about values would require crowding it with extra entities or qualities or relations, things like Platonic Forms or Moore’s non-natural qualities. But this assumption is not correct. The objective badness of pain, for example, is not some mysterious further property that all pains have, but just the fact that there is reason for anyone capable of viewing the world objectively to want it to stop. The view that values are real is not the view that they are real occult entities or properties, but that they are real values: that our claims about value and about what people have reason to do may be true or false independent of our beliefs and inclinations.
Pain, broadly, is bad—unless, we might say, one is a masochist; but then again, leprosy is bad too, so I wonder if Nagel’s ‘anyone capable of viewing the world objectively’ can do the work his thought requires of it. Real values are surely infintely negotiable?

Incidentally, I found this excellent account of the valences of Nagel's title, though I've forgotten where:
The puzzle is this: we see the world from a point of view, namely, the point of view of our own conscious selves. As babies, we only have a view of the world from this viewpoint. But as we grow older, we also have what Nagel calls the "view from nowhere". This is the idea of the world as objectively existing, independently of both our viewpoint or any other particular viewpoint. We consider ourselves to be a part of this world. Therefore we have a view of ourselves from the inside as perceivers of the world, but also of ourselves as members of the objective world.

Common-sense tells us that when we accumulate knowledge, this knowledge includes knowledge of the objective world. But Nagel sees a problem in the enterprise of accumulating such knowledge. Objective knowledge requires a neutral perspective. But we cannot occupy this neutral perspective. Therefore, objective knowledge seems unattainable.

What we try to do is give an account of the world that "includes an explanation of why it initially appears to us as it does". The problem here is that, while doing this, we always have to keep our subjective perspective, so there is always room for doubt that we are not getting the proper picture. "The most objective view we can achieve will have to rest on an unexamined subjective base."

The skeptical response to this is to accept that we just can’t have knowledge of the objective world. For all we know, we might live in the Matrix.

However, skepticism isn’t the only response to this. One alternative is a reductive response, which is anti-skeptical in nature. Nagel writes, "On a reductive view our beliefs are not about the world as it is in itself ... they are about the world as it appears to us." As what we commonly understand by objective knowledge is not possible, it is accepted that reality beyond our experience is either not possible or meaningless and so knowledge is understood as being confined to what is possible for us to experience.

The third possible response is the heroic one. This attempts somehow to bridge the gap between ourselves and objective knowledge. Part of the reason for calling this heroic is that the odds seemed stacked against its success.

Nagel also makes a distinction between realist and non-realist positions. The skeptical and heroic views are realist because both hold that there is a really existent outside world which we either can (heroic) or cannot (skeptical) comprehend. The reductive view on the other hand, sees this all as a red herring. It can only make sense to talk of how we see the world. The idea of an objectively existing world just doesn’t make any sense. However, Nagel believes that only realist response to the problem are credible, and wants to pursue a heroic one.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


I used to think that of my various character flaws (of which, I’m sorry to say, there are too many) the greatest and most evil was selfishness. Selfishness is indeed something against which I struggle, not always very successfully. But latterly I have begun to wonder whether, even more than ‘selfishness’ broadly conceived, my main character flaw isn’t more specifically self-pity. It flows from selfishness, of course, but is different to it, and in its way more corrosive.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


The ‘convulsionnaires’ were a French religious sect, aligned with the Jansenist movement (a primarily French religious movement that placed a heavy emphasis upon original sin, human depravity and the need to mortify the flesh). Convulsionism began as a specific sect when pilgrims to the tomb of prominent Jansenist François de Pâris (1690–1727), began to convulse and flail about. It spread through France in the 1730s, with adherents flagellating and even crucifying themselves, but was on the wane by the 1740s. Here is the entry on the sect from Diderot’s Encyclopedia: “Secte de fanatiques qui a paru dans notre siecle, qui existe encore, & qui a commencé au tombeau de M. Paris. Les convulsions ont nui beaucoup à la cause de l'appel, & aux miracles par lesquels on vouloit l'appuyer ; miracles attestés d'ailleurs par une foule de témoins prévenus ou trompés. Jamais les Jansénistes ne répondront à cet argument si simple : Où sont nées les convulsions, là sont nés les miracles. Les uns & les autres viennent donc de la même source ; or, de l'aveu des plus sages d'entre vous, l'oeuvre des convulsions est une imposture, ou l'ouvrage du diable, donc &c. En effet, les plus sensés d'entre les Jansénistes ont écrit avec zele & avec dignité contre ce fanatisme, ce qui a occasionné parmi eux une division en anti-convulsionistes & convulsionistes. Ceux-ci se sont redivisés bientôt en Augustinistes, Vaillantistes, Secouristes, Discernans, Figuristes, Mélangistes, &c. &c. &c. noms bien dignes d'être placés à côté de ceux des Ombilicaux, des Iscariotistes, des Stercoranistes, des Indorfiens, des Orebites, des Eoniens, & autres sectes aussi illustres. Nous n'en dirons pas davantage sur un sujet qui en vaut si peu la peine. Arnaud, Pascal & Nicole n'avoient point de convulsions, & se gardoient bien de prophétiser. Un archevêque de Lyon disoit dans le jx. siecle, au sujet de quelques prétendus prodiges de ce genre: " A-t-on jamais oui parler de ces sortes de miracles qui ne guérissent point les malades, mais font perdre à ceux qui se portent bien la santé & la raison? Je n'en parlerois pas ainsi, si je n'en avois été témoin moi-même; car en leur donnant bien des coups, ils avoüoient leur imposture ". Voyez le reste de ce passage très-curieux dans l'abrégé de l'histoire ecclésiastique en 2 volumes in -12. Paris, 1752, sous l'année 844. C'est en effet un étrange saint, que celui qui estropie au lieu de guérir. Mais il est peut-être plus étrange encore que les partisans d'un fanatisme si scandaleux & si absurde, se parent de leur prétendu zele pour la religion, & veuillent faire croire qu'ils en sont aujourd'hui les seuls défenseurs. On pourroit leur appliquer ce passage de l'Ecriture: Quare tu enarras justitias meas, & assumis testamentum meum per os tuum?”

Monday, 16 April 2012

God's Unexistence

We're fond of the fact that we exist; that's why we insist God does the same thing. But no-one has ever explained to me why 'existence' would be a good thing for God to have? If somebody sincerely believes God has fingers, eyes and a white beard, we tend to think of them as naif rather than blasphemous; but maybe we should crack down harder on such anthropomorphising of God -- and the claim that God 'exists' is surely the worst offender in this regard.

I suppose the point is that we tacitly assume that saying 'Existence is not relevant to God' (a way, I suppose, of saying 'God does not exist') is consigning God to a kind of bleak after-lifel it is disempowering Him, making Him as sort of shade. But this is foolish. Existence has many valences; everybody is perfectly comfortable distinguishing between 'Barack Obama exists' and 'Napoleon Bonaparte existed once, but no longer exists' and 'Sherlock Holmes never existed, except, in a funny sort of way he does'; and professional philosophers write whole books on the difference between the existent and the ontic, Dasein and Dooby-dooby-doo. Why shouldn't non-existence have a similar spread of valences and possibilities?

The obvious retort is something along the lines of 'I can't imagine how that could be'; but this is only to concede that it passeth our understanding (something traditionally spoken of God as a point of praise and majesty!) Of course we can't think outside existence; its the sea we swim, fish-like, in. But the fact that we can't think outside it really is neither here nor there where the possibility of Divinity is concerned.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


One more Tale of Two CDs ref, right at the beginning.
It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster.
Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) was a farmer’s daughter from Devon who declared that she had been vouchsafed divine visions, and issued prophesies and rhymes about the imminent coming of the new messiah and the end times. In fact, her visions began 1792, not the 1775 Dickens mentions here. I wonder about the reference to the ‘prophetic private’ of the Life Guards. Could it be toone of her followers, a Mr B. Bruce, who had a vision of the destruction of London in 1795?:
“I shall defer the continuation of this subject for a while, and insert the vision of Mr. B. Bruce. Mr. B. Bruce was favoured with the following vision in the night between the 3rd and 4th of March, 1795. "... I thought (and the impression is indelibly stamped on my heart) an angel approached me in the human shape, with a dignity and grace that instantly infused a degree of ecstasy and confidence through my whole frame, far beyond the power of language to express or describe. I felt as it were transported from misery to felicity, from earth to heaven! The angel assured me, in terms the most distinct and forcible, "that the wickedness, presumption, and apostasy of mankind, had reached the highest heaven; and that the long suspended wrath of God was now pouring forth on the earth, which alone would bring its inhabitants to a sense of their own depravity, as well as their own duty to and dependence on an offended though merciful Creator; and that these judgments would be made manifest through Mr. Brothers, as those upon Egypt were by Moses." The angel then vanished from my sight, and which was immediately followed by a sharp angry voice, distinctly uttered from the clouds, "My power and vengeance shall be made manifest and severely felt by this obdurate people!" I then thought I left the garret and went out into the street (though it was in the night,) and found several people in motion, particularly a gentleman of my acquaintance, a violent opposer of Mr. Brothers, who had also heard the voice, and was very much alarmed. Whilst I was speaking to him about so dreadful a denunciation, and the threatening appearance of the clouds, the wind increased to such a degree as to shake the house we were then in (for during the conversation we had entered his house) so violently, that I did not think or feel myself safe, and immediately returned home, where I found my wife praying in the parlour, in which I joined her; and soon afterwards the same angel appeared to us both, assuring us that "the Almighty would presently pass through the streets of London in a violent whirlwind and storm," and then left us. I then thought the firmament was remarkably clear and serene, in order to make the approach of the Almighty more manifest. Whilst we were waiting in great anxiety and awe, I cast my eyes to the earth (for we had been looking some time very steadfastly towards heaven,) when I found myself by the edge of a beautiful piece of water, in which two boys were bathing, and who seemed to be in danger of drowning, although they succeeded in getting safe to the shore. At this moment I found myself naked, and awoke very much agitated, though pleased with my dream." [Southcott, The Strange Effects of Faith, Volume 7: A Continuation of Prophecies from 1792 to the present time (1802)]
Though she died in 1814, Southcott was in the news at the time Dickens was writing Tale of Two Cities. One of her disciples, Ann Essan, had left a large sum in her will to ensure the publication and dissemination of Southcott’s writings in 1844; but Essan’s relatives challenged the will on the unusual legal grounds of the supposed blasphemy of the material itself. The case was heard in Chancery, and was not resolved until 1861.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Dr Manette: famously oppressed by the ancien regime, takes refuge psychologically in making shoes. Honest work, you see. I wonder if Dickens was influenced by Carlyle's account [French Revolution, I:4:4] of the Abbé Maury, shifty churchman and writer, apologist for Louis who escaped the tumbrils and fled the country? He 'vamped' himself a bishop's hat, and 'vamped up' the authority of the regime.
Mark also the Abbé Maury?: his broad bold face; mouth accurately primmed; full eyes, that ray out intelligence, falsehood, — the sort of sophistry which is astonished you should find it sophistical. Skilfulest vamper-up of old rotten leather, to make it look like new; always a rising man; he used to tell Mercier?, "You will see; I shall be in the Academy before you." Likely indeed, thou skilfullest Maury; nay thou shalt have a Cardinal's Hat, and plush and glory; but alas, also, in the longrun — mere oblivion, like the rest of us; and six feet of earth! What boots it, vamping rotten leather on these terms? Glorious in comparison is the livelihood thy good old Father earns, by making shoes, — one may hope, in a sufficient manner.
Maury's Dad was actually a shoemaker, too.

Friday, 13 April 2012


The two names first appear together in chapters 38 and 39 of the Book of Ezekiel, but here Magog is a place and not an individual:
Son of man, direct your face towards Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince, leader of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy concerning him. Say: Thus said the Lord: Behold, I am against you, Gog, the prince, leader of Meshech and Tubal.
Gog's allies - Meshech and Tubal, Persia, Cush and Put, and "Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north" - are all, with the exception of Persia, taken from the Table of Nations. Meshech, Tubal, Gomer and Beth Togarmah can be identified with real 8th and 7th century peoples, kings or kingdoms of Anatolia, modern Turkey. "Why the prophet's gaze should have focused on these particular nations is unclear," says Daniel Block in a recent study of Ezekiel 25-48, but suggests that their remoteness and reputation for violence and mystery "made Gog and his confederates perfect symbols of the archetypal enemy, rising against God and his people."

Around the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Sibylline Oracles mention the "land of Gog and Magog" as "situated in the midst of Aethiopian rivers", but in a second mention links it with the "Marsians and Dacians", in eastern Europe; in both cases they are about to receive "woe," and according to Boe, "there can be little doubt about the direct use of Ezekiel's oracles" in their composition. The Book of Jubilees, known from about the same time, mentions Magog as a son of Japheth to whom land is allocated, while Gog is a region on Japheth's borders. 1 Enoch tells how God stirs up the Medes and Parthians (instead of Gog and Magog) to attack Jerusalem, where they are destroyed; an indebtedness to Ezekiel 38-39 has also been asserted. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Messiah will rule "over all the peoples and Magog," and Magog is allocated land next to Gomer, the first son of Japheth. The sole fragment where the two names are combined as "Gog and Magog" is too small to be meaningful. The 1st century Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum is notable for listing and naming seven of Magog's sons, and mentions his "thousands" of descendants.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, made during this period, occasionally introduces the name of Gog where the Hebrew original has something else. Thus at Numbers 24:7 it replaces Agag, a mysterious but clearly powerful figure, with Gog, and at Amos 7:1 the Greek has Gog as the leader of a threatening locust-like army. The Greek translation of Ezekiel takes Gog and Magog to be synonyms for the same country, a step which paved the way for the Book of Revelation to turn "Gog from Magog" into "Gog and Magog."

By the end of the 1st century, Jewish tradition had long since changed Ezekiel's Gog from Magog into Gog and Magog, the ultimate enemies of God's people, to be destroyed in the final battle. The author of the Book of Revelation tells how he sees in a vision Satan rallying Gog and Magog, "the nations in the four corners of the Earth," to a final battle with Christ and his saints:
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the Earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
Ezekiel's Gog from Magog was a symbol of the evil darkness of the north and the powers hostile to God,[1] but in Revelation, Gog and Magog have no geographic location, and instead represent the nations of the world, banded together for the final assault on Christ and those who follow him.
It's a place that becomes a person. It's a morality tale about the dangers of nationalism, of rendering topography as an Uncle Sam, or a John Bull.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


"We are all communists with our closest friends, and feudal lords when dealing with small children. It is very hard to imagine a society where people wouldn’t be both" David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. One of the things I like about this line is its implicit question: which model of social organisation is the one with a larger gravitational pull upon your imagination? Which is to say: do you find yourself thinking about your fellow citizens as friends, or children? (Or indeed: would you prefer a society in which you were treated as a friend, or a child?)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


You tell me I'm wrong and it strengthens my resolve; in adversity I affirm my beliefs. But I explain to you that you're wrong, and I expect you to see the error of your ways. This is because I consider your views malleable in a way that isn't true of you. This is in the nature of Othering the other.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Here's a half-formed thought, about Dickens's best-selling novel. A city is a city if it has a Cathedral (amongst other, perhaps ill-defined, descriptors). The cathedrals for these two cities are St Paul's and Notre Dame, respectively. As if (Dickens is saying) England is governed by the Pauline principle of being born again, where France is under the control of a monstrous-maternal parody of Mary, Madame Therese Defarge.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Good Friday and Easter Saturday

Good Friday and Easter Saturday: two days when even the most devout Christian (or especially them) have to concur with Nietzsche, that God is dead.

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Oh no! My huge Matt Smith-shaped blimp has crashed into a lake of Earl Grey! Oh the ‘Who’-man in tea!

I'm not feminine enough for ‘shenanigans’; I might manage ‘henanigans’.

The ladies appear to have suffered a bout of insanity occasioned by the well-tailored clothes the gentleman is wearing. #EnglishZZTop

When I am Pope I shall finally be able to make puns about rust. With great power comes great rust-pun-ability.

Watching Mission Impossible III. Hard to believe a film about 18th-Century Jesuits in South America could have TWO sequels!

Bertrand Russell was a better philosopher than Aynrand Russell.

I'm in Sainsbury's. My life is beyond exciting. It's Yciting. It's almost Zciting.

That guy standing next to Oisín? He'll stone you. You know what the Bible says: Let him who is with Oisín cast the first stone.

The letters ‘Y’ and ‘E’ are 100ft tall! They're marketing the movie with a vast ‘YE’. #ThePirates

I've spent all day clowning about in imitation of a Welsh seaside resort. APE RHYLL FOOL!

Remember that lovely song "When A Child is Born Population Is Necessarily Limited by the Means of Subsistence"? By Johnny Malthus.

Iron Man always arranged things so that everything below his thighs was in shadow. That’s why they called him “Toe, knees, dark.”

The title of the sequel to James Cameron’s “Avatar“ has just been announced! It’s “Bvatar”.

My neck is so stiff it could form a label and release an Ian Dury and the Blockheads album.

The Mork & Mindy reboot in which Boromir replaces Mindy won't be filmed on Wardour Street after all. One does not simply Mork into Wardour.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


What's not to love about this Vaticam manuscript illustration [Vat. lat. 3868 (2r)], leading off a collection of plays by Terence?
The two on the left and right are wearing dramatic masks, of course; but I love the way they look like space aliens. And I love, too, that the anonymous Vatican librarian, when applying the library stamp, took care to place it where he did, in harmony with the bigger circle above. Lovely stuff.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Beowulf catechism

Who is Beowulf?

He died to save us, fighting a trinity of evil: the mother, the son and the unholy serpent. His name is a variant of Deowuld, 'God's glory' (Compare Joshua is a rendering of the Hebrew language "Yahoshua", meaning "Glory [or "Salvation"] through Yahweh"; "Jesus" is the English of the Greek transliteration of "Yahoshua" via Aramaic.) Though he has died, yet will he come again.

Who is Beowulf?

He is the Devil, the bear of evil, the wolf. Into this world was sent a Green Man of growth and renewal, called Grendl, born without father (for his father was God) from a virgin mother; he came as a gleaner, with a gleaner's sack, to winnow the virtuous from the wicked; and like Christ in the temple sometimes he went into unholy places and made a fuss. But Beowulf attacked and killed this saviour, and for a time he seemed to triumph: until the Father sent an angel of fire to overthrow him. So perish all evil!

Thursday, 5 April 2012


When Adam delft and the Rotter damned
Who was then the Netherland?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Frankenstein's professors

Frankenstein studies at Ingolstadt under two professors 'M. Krempe' and 'M. Waldman.' These two are thinly veiled portraits of notable contemporaries. ‘Krempe’ is based on Chrétien Kramp (c.1750 – 1828), French mathematician and scientist who taught for a while in Switzerland; ‘Waldman’ is based on Henri Walferdin (1743 - 1820) a natural philosopher most famous today for the invention of a variety of hydro-barometers and thermometers.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

On SF, again

The sentiment behind Blake’s heartfelt ‘May God us keep/From single vision and Newton’s sleep’ has percolated least into the fabric of science fiction.

Monday, 2 April 2012


Not thinking about things is a good way of dealing with trauma and upset, actually; and not thinking can become a habit. But this isn’t the same thing as forgetting, and certainly not the same thing as ‘repressing’ a memory. Memory is not a thing to be repressed, in my experience.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


Samuel Edwards, The Copernican System: a Poem (1728)—links Copernicanism with the Hanoverian succession on grounds of nationality: ‘concerning Copernicus, his Labours can speak him best,’ Edwards notes in the poem’s Preface, adding ‘but I beg Leave to acquaint the Reader that he was born in GERMANY. How are we indebted to that Empire, to which we owe the best of KINGS!’  Astronomical observation ( ‘curious we behold thy [Jupiter’s] many Belts/That gird thy Spacious Body round and large,/Formed from thick Vapours or Eruption dire’ [11]) jostles for place with political exhortation: ‘but cease intestine Broils; so GEORGE commands, … Astrea shall return to bless our Isle/And a new Athens in Britannia rise.’ [16]