Monday, December 11, 2006

Climate Change & A Spiritual Revolution

No less an icon than Kirk Douglas was reported in this morning's Guardian as calling upon my generation to take its future into its own hands. The most memorable paragraph is this one:

"Generation Y, you are on the cusp. You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, genocide, Aids, and suicide bombers to name a few. These problems exist, and the world is silent. We have done very little to solve these problems. Now, we leave it to you. You have to fix it because the situation is intolerable."

Having just turned ninety he can be excused from saying this in the second person. But another senior citizen has pointed out that climate change is also brought about by small and complex changes in our orbitting of the sun. Alan Garner pointed out in his 2003 essay 'The Poetry That Lies Beneath Our Feet' that the last time the planet went through a similar change in climate, when the human population was much smaller, it is unlikely that it led to many people drowning:

Twelve and a half thousand years ago, the temperature rose by 7C, and the sea level by 400 feet, in 50 years. Yet it is unlikely that many human beings drowned as a direct result. People adapted and moved. The massive global warming led to agriculture, farming, the development of writing, the building of cities (that is, civilization), and ironically the freeing for occupation of a huge land mass that is now the main polluter and threat to our fragile and overloaded human ecology: America.

His mentioning of America reminds me of Karen Armstrong's insistence on our return to some of the values of the Axial Age (an age the philosopher Karl Jaspars categorised as happening between 800 and 200 BCE and comprising the lives of Socrates, Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Jeremiah, the Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tzu, Armstrong even tries to squeeze Jesus and Muhammad in). She insists that these values can make us realise that all human beings are as important as ourselves and lead us to venerate the earth as sacred rather than as an infinite resource. Without such a spiritual revolution we wil not save the planet.

Now, back to America. Today I rediscovered an article from the astroarchaeology website that pointed out the similarities between the Red Indians and the ancient Irish race of the Tuatha de Dannan. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is part of a speech by a Native American which is kind of an open addrss to the Great Chief in Washington:

Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – our god is the same god. You may think that you own him as you wish to own the land but you cannot. This Earth is precious to the great spirit, and to harm the Earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and one night you will suffocate in your own waste.

And down the side of the screen is the earliest known Irish poem. It comes not only from a pre-Christian society, but it was written before Christ lived and as well as having similarities to the fierce and omnipotent God of the Old Testament, it is a God who makes it clear that we are the ones who are fragile surrounded by the earth that he has created:


I am the wind on the ocean
I am the rolling wave
I am the murmur of the billows
I am the bull of seven battles
I am the falcon on the rock
I am the dewdrop in the Sun
I am the lovely flower
I am the wild boar
I am the salmon in the pool
I am the lake in the plain
I am the power of art
I am the point of a lance in battle
I am the God who creates the fire in the head.

Who casts the light
into the gathering on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who points to the Sun?

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Truth is never pretty, that is just mathematicians' sentimentality. And the pursuit of it does not make for pretty people. Truth can only be found in the cellars and sewers of the human mind."

Truth is something that anybody can claim to be telling: the BNP, Fox News, The Labour Party, the Socialist Worker Party. The reason why my post tonight is so short is that I've been busy writing an account of my experience as a door-to-door salesman in America. The prose is spare and the storytelling's extremely elliptic, but I've decided that that's the only way to be truthful about the experience.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

In the room the women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo

Ibsen made the distinction between those artists who went down to the sewers to bathe and those who went there to purify. In an article in this morning's Daily Telegraph, Michael Henderson associates Damien Hirst with a loose collection known as 'young British artists' in saying that Hirst has nothing to say but he's determined to say it.

When I did a module called 'Twentieth Century Fiction' in the final year of my BA, I was taught that one of the defining characteristics of post-modernism was a tendency to blur the distinction between high-culture (ie figures in the first half of the centure, Stravinsky, TS Eliot, Joyce, Picasso) and low (or popular culture). I now think that this is one of the positive things about post-modernism. All works of art are after all, packaged commodities like everything else. As Peter Carey writes in the last paragraph of his 300 worder 'Report on the Shadow Industry':

My own feelings about the shadows are ambivalent to say the least. For here I have manufactured one more: elusive, unsatisfactory, hinting at greater beauties and more profound mysteries that exist somewhere before the beginning and somewhere after the end.

This doesn't however, prevent many 'artists' from living in a bubble of self-importance. Fame fame fatal fame can play hideous tricks on the brain. In 1988 the critic DJ Taylor lamented how the English novel was being denigrated into 'Drawing-room twitter' and how the great issues of the day were being shunned.

One artist that cannot be accused of twittering is the rock band Radiohead. Noel Gallagher recently said in an interview with The Guardian that he had no use for or understanding of Radiohead. He had grown up with the charts and wanting to be at number 1. At various times in my life both Radiohead and the music of Gallagher's Oasis have kept me afloat when I otherwise might have gone under. Both bands are in different ways, like taking a trip to the sewer, and both have the capacity to be purifying. Radiohead for their politically-charged intensity and uncompromising intellectual honesty, Oasis for the way they match reflectiveness with snarling arrogance.

As I write, 'Take That' are enjoying a nostalgic, and probably well deserved, ITV Prime-Time special. They must have learnt by now that fame has its place, but it is a sewer in that it is not in itself fertile.

The novel that I'm currently working on has a story that unfolds over two millenia and the action revolves around a sphagnum bog. It is heavily influenced by the work of Alan Garner. He is a Cheshire based novelist who has spent nearly fifty years writing fiction of unfathomable depth and is one of the most popular children's novelists of his time. I'll leave you with a passage from his novel 'The Stone Book Quartet':

And Father went out of the room and left Mary by the fire. He went to Old William and took his Ophicleide, as he always did after shouting, and he played the hymn that Old William liked best because it was close to the beat of the loom. William sang for the rhythm, 'Nickety-nackety, Monday-come-Saturday', and Father tried to match him on the ophicleide.

William bawled:

"Oh, the years of Man are the looms of God
Let down from the place in the sun;
Wherein we are moving always,
Till the mystic work is done!"